An Introduction to Atrial Fibrillation

You are probably familiar with the term heart rate; it refers to how many times the heart beats per minute. You may have noticed that your heart rate changes throughout the day-sometimes, like when you are exercising, your heart rate increases. At other times of the day, like when you are relaxing, your heart rate might drop. This fluctuation in heart rate is perfectly normal.

Sometimes, however, people have heart rates that are irregular. Normally, your heart beats consistently, like a clock and even though the tempo (or speed) of the beat can change, the heart rhythm is always consistent. This is because the heart uses electrical impulses to ensure the muscle contracts the same way each time. In patients with atrial fibrillation, this is no longer the case.

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia, or heart beat disorder, where the heart beats irregularly and often too fast. Normally, the heart beats around 60-100 times per minute but during atrial fibrillation this number can as much as double. While atrial fibrillation may not always have a noticeable impact on day-to-day life, the condition is extremely important to monitor and control because it dramatically increases your risk of cardiovascular events like strokes or heart failure.

This educational guide will help teach you the basics of atrial fibrillation and what you can do to manage it, including links to other patient resources that you may find helpful. That notwithstanding, you should always make medical decisions in concert with your healthcare providers. Never start, stop or change medications or lifestyle interventions without consultation of your doctor.

Atrial Fibrillation 1 in 3 strokes in peopleover 60 are caused byatrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillationpatients have a 3-5times greater risk ofstroke Rates of hospitilizationfor atrial fibrillationpatients are on the rise An estimated 350 000Canadians suffer fromatrial fibrillation

Arrhythmias Definition and Types

An arrhythmia can simply be defined as an abnormal heart beat. There are many different types of arrhythmias, differing in the type and location of the abnormal electrical impulses. This diagram below can help you better understand the differences.

ArrythmiaAny condition where the heart rythym is abnormal TachycardiaAbnormally fast heartbeat BradycardiaAbnormally slowheart beat Ventricular TachycardiaImproper activity in the lower chamberof the heart (also known as the ventricles) Supraventricular TachycardiaImproper activity in the upper chamberof the heart (also known as the atrium) Atrial FibrillationChaotic, irrecular and rapidbeating of the upper chambersof the heart(increases risk of stroke) Atrial FlutterRapid but regularbeating of the upperchamber of the heart(increases risk of stroke) Paroxysmal AtrialTachycardia (PAT)An abnormal heart rythym where ashort circuit results in a rapid butregular heart beat (does not typically increase risk of stroke)
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