Irregular Heartbeat

Irregular HeartbeatA lack of rhythm may embarrass you on the dance floor, but when it comes to your heart, slipping out of sync has much more serious consequences.

Hospitalizations for a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation—or AFib, for short—increased about 23 percent between 2000 and 2010. In all, the condition sent nearly 4 million Americans to hospital beds during that time. That’s according to a study in the journal Circulation.

Some Populations Have More Heart Troubles

AFib occurs when the electrical signals that control your heartbeat go haywire. The atria, or small upper chambers of your heart, quiver rapidly instead of contracting fully. As a result, your heart can’t pump blood properly.

As the population ages, more people than ever are at risk for AFib, the researchers note. In addition, other risk factors for irregular heartbeats are on the rise. These include high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and diabetes.

Watch for These Red Flags

People with untreated AFib have five times the risk of having a stroke as those with a regular heartbeat. Talk with your doctor if you have symptoms such as:

  • Irregular or rapid heartbeats
  • Thumping in your chest
  • Frequent fainting
  • Feeling weak or having trouble exercising
  • Dizziness, shortness of breath, or anxiety
  • Chest pain

Medications, a pacemaker, or sometimes surgery can correct your heart’s wiring problem. Your health care team will work with you to create a specific treatment strategy. Treatment options vary according to your medical history, your symptoms, and your preferences.

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