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Confronting Heart Rhythm Abnormalities
By Marcelo Helguera, MD - Cleveland Clinic Florida Cardiologist / November 1, 2014

Millions of Americans suffer from heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), which are conditions that cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. Many are unaware that they have an irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmias are classified according to the speed of the heart rate, as well as in which part of the heart they develop. Doctors may refer to an arrhythmia as atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, supraventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, or bradycardia. Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of abnormal heartbeat. Cleveland Clinic I specialize in Electrophysiology, which focuses on the prevention and treatment of heart rhythm abnormalities.

What causes AFib?

There is no one "cause" of AFib, although it is associated with many conditions, including:
Cleveland Clinic
Most common causes
  • Hypertension
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • After heart surgery
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopahy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Pulmonary embolism
Less common causes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pericarditis
  • Viral infection
In at least 10 percent of the cases, no underlying heart disease is found. In these cases, AFib may be related to alcohol or excessive caffeine use, stress, certain drugs, electrolyte or metabolic imbalances, severe infections, or genetic factors. In some cases, no cause can be found.

What are the dangers of AFib?

Some people live for years with AFib without any issues; however, if left untreated it can lead to future medical problems. Because the atria are beating rapidly and irregularly, blood does not flow through them as quickly. This makes the blood more likely to clot. If a clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke. AFib can also decrease the heartís pumping ability. The irregularity can make the heart work less efficiently. In addition, AFib that occurs over a long period of time can significantly weaken the heart and lead to heart failure and even death.

What are the symptoms of Afib?

You may have AFib without having any symptoms. If you have symptoms, they may include:
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lack of energy
  • Dizziness
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
How is AFib treated?

The appropriate starting point for treating most patients is medication and lifestyle changes. Should medications be unsuccessful, physicians may recommend a procedure to regain normal heart rhythm. Types of procedures range from mild electric shocks administered to the chest wall (electro cardioversion) to catheter ablations, both of which are used to treat AFib. Catheter ablations, which should only be performed by a skilled electrophysiologist, are procedures aimed at disconnecting the pathway of the abnormal rhythm. Should other options not prevail, surgery may be employed. Most surgical techniques are intended to either block or disconnect the electrical impulse causing the irregular heart beat.

Dr. Helguera and the entire heart team at Cleveland Clinic Florida are highly skilled in the most innovative treatments for complex heart conditions. They are also supported by the latest technology and the team of nationally recognized experts dedicated to heart care. Cleveland Clinic Florida is backed by the vast resources of Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which has been ranked #1 in the nation for heart care 20 years in a row, by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, call 800.639.DOCTOR, or visit clevelandclinicflorida.org/heart.




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