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Atrial Fibrillation


More than 5 million Americans have atrial fibrillation (AF). The odds of developing AF increase with age: Nearly 4% of people over age 60 and 9% of those over 80 have atrial fibrillation.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation (AF)?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of supraventricular tachycardia, a heart condition in which the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly and too fast because they receive extra, "abnormal" electrical signals. This causes the atria to quiver (fibrillate), affecting the heart's ability to pump blood to the body. As a result, your brain and other organs may not be getting the full blood supply they need.

AF is a dangerous medical condition that becomes more difficult to treat over time. AF can lead to irreversible heart damage. It can also lead to the formation of blood clots inside the heart, which may lead to a stroke.

Causes & Risk Factors For Atrial Fibrillation

It is unlikely your doctor can pinpoint just one cause of your AF, but there are certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing AF. These include:

  • A previous heart attack, congestive heart failure, leaky valves, artery disease or inflammation near the heart
  • High blood pressure or diabetes
  • Thyroid, lung or nerve conditions
  • High levels of caffeine or alcohol use

Symptoms Of Atrial Fibrillation

Some patients have no sensation at all that their heart is fibrillating. Others experience symptoms that include:

  • An uncomfortable sensation in the chest
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lack of stamina and fatigue

Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation

AF can be detected through an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) that records electrical signals generated by the heart. A Holter monitor may also be worn for one or more days to detect AF.

Treatment For Atrial Fibrillation At Dignity Health Heart And Vascular Institute

AF therapy is aimed at reducing the patient's risk of stroke, relieving symptoms and trying to prevent further weakening of the heart. Unfortunately, there is no single treatment strategy that has been shown to be effective for all patients with AF.

There are several therapies that may be used alone or in combination. The choice of treatment depends upon:

  • The severity of your symptoms
  • The likelihood that you will respond to a particular treatment
  • Consideration of the risks versus benefits of treatment

At Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento, our treatment options include:

  • Ablation Therapies: Our heart experts many different types of ablation techniques to treat atrial fibrillation, including:
  • Minimally invasive catheter ablation
  • Surgical atrial fibrillation ablation
  • Robot-assisted catheter ablation
  • Drug Therapies: Drug therapies include blood thinners and medications used to control your heart rate during AF and restore its normal rhythm. They include:
  • Anticoagulants (blood thinners) that prevent the blood clots than can lead to stroke. Common types of blood thinners include Coumadin and Pradaxa.
  • Rate Control Drugs that bring your heart back into a normal and consistent rhythm. Some people have problems tolerating their side effects or cannot use them because they may interact with other drugs they are taking.

Your doctor will help you decide which drug is right for you.

Trust your heart to the experts: Patient Testimonial Dr. O’Neil

Take a moment to listen to the amazing story of our patient, Edith and her journey back to a healthy heart with Dignity Health’s cardiac expert Dr. O’Neill.