Published: Aug. 6, 2008
Updated: Mar. 21, 2011
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Atrial fibrillation (sometimes referred to as AFib or AF) occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat fast and irregularly.
Because the upper chambers don’t contract or pump normally, the efficiency of the heart pumping function is lessened. This results in decreased blood flow to the rest of the body that can cause shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and general weakness.
Episodes of AFib can be sporadic or they may be present all the time. AFib isn’t typically life threatening, but it is associated with an increased risk of stroke, and if the heartbeat remains too fast for weeks or months, overall heart function can decrease.
AFib is treatable. Treatment options include:
There is a wide range of conditions associated with AFib. The exact reasons that AFib develops in an individual are often difficult to identify.
Possible causes of AFib include a tendency for portions of the heart to beat very fast, generalized scarring of the upper heart chambers, heart disease such as narrowing or leaking of the heart valves, or decreased heart function due to previous heart attacks or inflammation of the heart muscle.
Medical problems that are associated with development of AFib include the following: