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Atrial Fibrillation

Irregular heartbeat?
Weakness or fatigue?
Shortness of breath?
Do you suffer from any of these symptoms?

The Arrhythmia Center can help. Welcome to the CHRISTUS St. Patrick Arrhythmia Center, the only comprehensive heart rhythm facility in the South. Our nationally-recognized cardiac team provides patients with state-of-the-art technology and the latest in treatment options, helping to reduce the risk of strokes and eliminating the need for medication.

Read on to learn more...

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial Fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. During any cardiac arrhythmia, your heart's rhythm is disrupted causing abnormal contractions of the heart muscle. Atrial fibrillation is a unique cardiac arrhythmia that directly affects the upper chambers of the heart.

Being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation can be a bewildering experience. Learning about what causes afib, behaviors that increase your risk of occurrences, and the prevalence of associated medical conditions may help you understand why the mini-maze is the optimal treatment option for you.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when irregular electrical impulses initiated in the left atrium disrupt the precision of cardiac conduction. These electrical impulses move across both atria, they cause erratic, fast, fluttery contractions which disrupt proper full contractions of the atria. Not only is the atria unable to contract as a whole chamber, which significantly reduces its ability to pump blood into the ventricles, but the rapidity of the atria's contractions interferes with the precise rhythm between the atria and the ventricles. The rhythm of the ventricles tends to be much slower than the atria during atrial fibrillation, which distinguishes atrial fibrillation from atrial tachycardia and atrial flutter.

With all four of the heart's chambers affected, the pumping action of the entire heart is compromised. As less blood is effectively pumped through the heart, less oxygenated blood reaches the body's other organs. This can cause a kind of hypoxia in which dizziness, fainting and shortness of breath occurs. Without a sufficient pumping action, the blood can pool initiating the most critical aspect of atrial fibrillation which is the risk of atrial thrombosis and systemic arterial embolism that can lead to stroke.

Contributing Risks for Atrial Fibrillation

Your risk of acquiring atrial fibrillation increases with age. Less than 2% of the nation's population under the age of 65 is diagnosed with AF, while over 5% of the population over 65 is diagnosed with afib. People who suffer from obesity have also shown a higher predisposition for atrial fibrillation than the general public. Incidence of atrial fibrillation occurrences can be triggered by excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol or other nervous system stimulants.

Related Medical Conditions

The relationship of atrial fibrillation to other medical conditions and heart disease continues to be researched and reported. Because the mechanisms of the heart are so intricate, when one aspect of the organ's function is disrupted by heart attack, high blood pressure or heart defect, it is common and expected that other aspects will be impacted. The following related medical conditions have less of an obvious cause and effect relationship to atrial fibrillation, but these conditions tend to be indicators of AF or they contribute to the prevalence of AF.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
    Studies have shown that people with OSA have an increased risk of AF, especially after cardioversion. OSA occurs in more patients with AF than any other group that suffers from multiple heart diseases.
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse
    Over time, MVP causes the left atrium to dilate. Left atrium dilation has been shown to contribute to atrial fibrillation. Congestive Heart Failure
  • Congestive Heart Failure
    CHF increases the risk of afib by up to 6 times. CHF is also often an indicator of AF, and AF contributes to CHF.

No one wants to be diagnosed with a heart condition. So actively seeking a diagnosis for atrial fibrillation may seem extreme, especially if your symptoms aren't really debilitating. But consider this: the sooner patients with afib are diagnosed and seek surgical treatment; the more likely they are to be completely cured of this cardiac arrhythmia.

If you experience heart palpitations, fluttering or rapid heart beats, and you are concerned that you may have atrial fibrillation or another heart condition, contact your general practitioner or your primary care physician. If you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, know that you have options. Our physicians in the Atrial Fibrillation program offer interventions such as catheter ablation and the mini-maze minimally invasive closed chest surgical procedure.

Learn more about our physicians who treat Atrial Fibrillation:

Dr. James McKinnie  Dr. Xavier Mousset


Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms

Not everyone who has afib has symptoms, which often causes atrial fibrillation to go undetected for a long period of time. Approximately 1-2% of the nation's population under 65 has atrial fibrillation. More than 5% of the population over 65 has it. The most common symptoms are:


  • Heart palpitations/rapid heart beat/heart flutter
  • Shortness or loss of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Fatigue
  • Exhaustion

These symptoms are not only unique to AF and can be symptoms of another cardiac condition. Informing your general practitioner or primary care physician of any heart related symptoms as soon as possible is highly recommended.


Available tests for diagnosing AF

Electrocardiogram - to measure the surface electrical activity
Echocardiogram - to identify underlying structural heart disease
Holter Monitor - to detect any arrhythmias not found during a routine EKG

Event Recorder - to be carried with a person to record when he/she has symptoms

Blood Tests - to assist in ruling out thyroid problems or blood chemistry abnormalities


Treatment Options

Once AF is diagnosed, CHRISTUS St. Patrick Arrhythmia Center and your physician are ready with an extensive variety of treatment options that can often free you from symptoms and medications altogether, even Coumadin. In addition to Medication, Electrical Cardioversion and Pacemaker and Ablation, we also offer:

  • Catheter ablation. For qualified patients, this is a safe catheter-based procedure to destroy the cells that cause atrial fibrillation in order to restore normal electrical impulses to the heart.
  • Surgical maze. This procedure can be done either by open-heart surgery or minimally -invasive surgery and it involves making several incisions to the atrium to disrupt the electrical pathways that generate AF.
  • Surgical mini-maze. This is a new minimally-invasive surgical procedure in which patients can benefit from better circulation, improved heart function and reduced risk of stroke.

Learn more about our physicians who treat Atrial Fibrillation:
Dr. James McKinnie              Dr. Xavier Mousset


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