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You are here : AllRefer.com > Health > Diseases & Conditions > Atrial fibrillation/flutter

Atrial fibrillation/flutter

Alternate Names : Auricular fibrillation, A-fib


Definition

Atrial fibrillation/flutter is a heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia). It usually involves a rapid heart rate, in which the upper heart chambers (atria) are stimulated to contract in a very disorganized and abnormal manner.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Arrhythmias are caused by a disruption of the normal electrical conduction system of the heart.

Normally, the four chambers of the heart (two atria and two ventricles) contract in a very specific, coordinated way. The electrial impulse that signals your heart to contract in a synchronized way begins in the sinoatrial node (SA node). This node is your heart's natural pacemaker.

The signal leaves the SA node and travels through the two upper chambers (atria). Then the signal passes through another node (the AV node), and finally, through the lower chambers (ventricles). This path enables the chambers to contract in a coordinated fashion.

In atrial fibrillation, the atria are stimulated to contract very quickly and differently from the normal pattern. The impulses are sent to the ventricles in an irregular pattern. This makes the ventricles beat abnormally, leading to an irregular (and usually fast) pulse.

In atrial flutter, the ventricles may beat very fast, but in a regular pattern.

If the atrial fibrillation/flutter is part of a condition called sick sinus syndrome, the sinus node may not work properly. The heart rate may alternate between slow and fast. As a result, there may not be enough blood to meet the needs of the body.

Atrial fibrillation can affect both men and women. It becomes more common with increasing age.

Causes of atrial fibrillation include:

Pictures & Images

Heart, section through the middle
Heart, section through the middle

Heart, front view
Heart, front view

Posterior heart arteries
Posterior heart arteries

Anterior heart arteries
Anterior heart arteries

 
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Review Date : 4/23/2009
Reviewed By : Alan Berger, MD, Assistant Professor, Divisions of Cardiology and Epidemiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.



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