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Patient Education

Atrial Fibrillation, AFIB – The most common arrhythmia, which occurs when the electrical signal that causes the atria to contract in an organized way becomes irregular and disorganized. AFIB can occur from time to time (paroxysmal) or it can be a permanent or persistent condition. It can be a factor for a stroke especially for patients who are over 65, hypertensive or diabetic.

Atrial FibrillationRisk Factors for Atrial Fibrillation

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Weakened Heart Muscle
  • Heart Valve Disease
  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Post Cardiac surgery
  • Excessive alcohol or caffeine

Symptoms for Atrial Fibrillation – may differ in each patient but may feel like a sudden flutter of the heart, heart beat becomes irregular and more rapid than normal.

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Weakness and difficulty exercising
  • Chest Pain
  • Palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue

Causes for Atrial Fibrillation – may have no apparent cause or could be linked to other medical conditions such as:

  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Thyroid Disease
  • Structural Defects of the Heart or Valves
  • Lung Disease
  • Inflammation of the Heart
  • Fatigue

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Supraventricular Tachycardia ( SVT) – This term describes several other types of fast heart rhythms that are not typically dangerous, but can cause symptoms of palpitations, fatigue, or shortness of breath. They typically start suddenly and stop suddenly, and may last for minutes or hours, with a rapid but steady pulse during the episode. The fast rhythm is usually caused by either an irritable spot that fires rapidly (atrial tachycardia, or AT), or by an electrical “short circuit” that involves an extra electrical connection between the top and bottom chambers of the heart (atrioventricular node reentry, AVNRT, or atrioventricular reentry with an accessory pathway, AVRT). Treatment options include medications or a catheter ablation procedure.

Ventricular Tachycardia – Characterized by a very fast heart rate, VT usually is seen in the setting of other serious heart disease, and may be life-threatening. Occasionally, it occurs in people with normal hearts. If it does not stop on its own, VT usually requires prompt treatment with either medication or an electrical impulse to the heart (electrical cardioversion). Further treatment of VT may involve antiarrhythmic medications, a catheter ablation procedure, or rarely surgery. Often, people with VT and heart disease are protected by implantation of a defibrillator (ICD). Because VT may lead to ventricular fibrillation (VF - next item), it is considered a serious condition that warrants aggressive monitoring and treatment.

Ventricular Fibrillation – The most common cause of cardiac arrest is an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation — when rapid, erratic electrical impulses cause your ventricles to quiver uselessly instead of pumping blood. Without an Normal Heart Rythmeffective heartbeat, your blood pressure plummets, cutting off blood supply to your vital organs. Ventricular fibrillation, poses the greatest threat of all arrhythmias, and accounts for half of all cardiac deaths. In VF, the heartbeat is rapid and chaotic, which prevents the lower heart chambers, or ventricles, from pumping blood to the brain or body. During VF, the blood pressure falls to zero, and the person falls unconscious. A prompt, life-saving shock (defibrillation) must be delivered to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. Sometimes, VF can happen during a heart attack (myocardial infarction), because the heart muscle is irritated by the sudden blockage of an artery. VF can also happen at other times, and be caused by previous heart damage or an inherited (genetic) heart condition.  It is important to realize that VF is an electrical disorder of the heart ( not the same thing as a “heart attack”) and may or may not be related to a problem with clogged arteries that supply the heart with blood.

VF is sudden and happens without any warning. It stops all heart functioning. The lack of blood and oxygen throughout the body, and especially to the brain, is deadly within a few minutes if not treated promptly with defibrillation. Although CPR can provide temporary benefit, the only truly effective treatment for VF is defibrillation, which relies on paddles or electrodes to "shock" the heart back to normal rhythm. Without treatment, loss of consciousness comes in seconds, and death is inevitable within minutes.

Atrial Tachycardia – A sustained, regular heart rhythm that occurs in the upper chamber of the heart and causes it to beat too rapidly.

Atrial Flutter – Atrial flutter is similar to AF, characterized by a rapid heartbeat. Instead of rapid disorganized signals in the atria, however, AFL is caused by a single electrical wave that circulates rapidly in the right atrium about 300-400 cycles a minute, leading to a very fast, steady heartbeat.

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Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) or Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) – The immediate cause of SCD or SCA is usually an abnormality in your heart rhythm (arrhythmia), the result of a malfunction in your heart's electrical system.

Syncope (Fainting) – Fainting, or feeling as if one might faint, can be caused by multiple conditions, ranging from mild to serious heart rhythm disorders, so it needs to be evaluated carefully. Sometimes the cause is not heart-related but still can be dangerous. Certain arrhythmias can cause a drop in blood pressure and lead to syncope, including medications or certain nerve reflexes to the heart and blood vessels. No matter what the cause, fainting can be dangerous and should be evaluated by a cardiac specialist.

Sinus Tachycardia – Sinus tachycardia is a normal increase in heart rate that happens with fever, excitement and exercise. It does require treatment aside from treating the underlying problem, such as anemia, infection, or hyperthyroidism.  At times, the sinus node can cause the heart to beat faster than it should without any underlying cause. If symptoms result, the condition is known as “inappropriate sinus tachycardia,” and some treatment options are available.

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