Q: What is atrial fibrillation?
A: Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart arrhythmia in the U.S. It usually involves a rapid heart rate, where the upper heart chambers (atria) are stimulated to contract in a disorganized and abnormal manner. It is most often caused by abnormal electrical firing in the areas where the veins that drain blood from the lungs (pulmonary veins) connect to the left atrium. Atrial fibrillation can be related to high blood pressure, an overactive thyroid, congestive heart failure or diseased heart valves, or can occur in patients with structurally normal hearts who do not have an obvious predisposing condition. It is important to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Click here for more information about atrial fibrillation.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
A: There are many. Typical symptoms include a racing heart or palpitations, but some patients have more subtle symptoms such as shortness of breath or fatigue, without palpitations.
Q: How is atrial fibrillation treated?
A: Initial treatment is medication. If this fails, ablation, which involves cauterization of abnormal heart tissue, is recommended. The goal is to eliminate the electrical connections between the pulmonary veins and the left atrium so that the abnormal impulses from those veins cannot stimulate the rest of the heart, the cause of the atrial fibrillation. Typically, ablation has been done manually by directing a catheter (a thin flexible tube) within the left atrium (left upper chamber of the heart). Although atrial fibrillation is a common arrhythmia, the ablation procedure to fix it is very complex and can only be done at major medical centers with a high level of technical expertise. In Suffolk County, Stony Brook Medicine fills this role.
Q: What other cardiac arrhythmia services are offered at Stony Brook?
A: Our electrophysiology service offers comprehensive care for patients with atrial fibrillation, including the latest diagnostic tools, medication management, and ablation, when necessary. Also offered are the latest treatments for patients with other arrhythmia conditions including:
- Implantation of pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators
- Cardiac resynchronization therapy
- Laser extraction of infected or malfunctioning pacemaker and defibrillator leads
- Evaluation and management of syncope (fainting)
- Expert medical management of patients with cardiac arrhythmias