heart Living with Atrial Fibrillation

Your doctor says you've had an atrial fibrillation.

What does that mean?

What should you do about it?

What is atrial fibrillation (AF)?

AF is a kind of heart attack called a cardiac dysrhythmia.

heart rhythm What's that?

For a brief time your heart lost its natural rhythm and did not pump well.

Why not?

In a healthy heart, the electrical signal that stimulates its muscles comes from a single site and proceeds in an orderly sequence. During AF, multiple sites emit this signal. The signal becomes chaotic and the muscles do not work together. While this is happening, the heart is not pumping effectively.

Who gets it?

AF is seen in older adults.

Is it dangerous?

Yes. If it lasts for more than a very few minutes, it can cause great damage by interrupting your body's blood supply. It can be life threatening.
automatic defibrillator What's the treatment?

One possible intervention is a shock with a device called an automatic defibrillator. Two paddles are pressed to specific locations on the chest and an electrical impulse is applied. This helps a fibrillating heart return to its normal rhythm.

waste no time Must we hurry?

Yes. Quick response is essential. Following a sudden cardiac arrest, each minute of delay reduces the survival rate by 7-10%.

Are there long-term risks, too?

Yes. AF is a risk factor for clots and strokes.

What does it feel like?

The sensations of AF are often described as fatigue, fluttering in the chest, and shortness of breath.

eat a healthy diet What's the long-term treatment?

In addition to regular checkups by your doctor, lifestyle changes are indicated. Quit smoking, control your cholesterol through diet and exercise, control your blood pressure, minimize dietary sodium, manage stress, and avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants.
exercise regularly
Are there drugs for this?

Yes. They include digoxin, beta blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, propranolol), amiodarone, disopyramide, calcium antagonists (verapamil, diltiazam), sotalol, flecainide, procainamide, quinidine, propafenone, and others.

Anything else?

Atrial pacemakers are sometimes used.

stay healthy Will I die?

Of course. But if you're careful, not of AF.



Whom this pamphlet is for:

  • Older adults
  • Persons diagnosed with AF



Dan Keller, September 2005
USF N231 -- Nursing Therapeutics
Prof. Elizabeth Cooper, RN, MSN
Assignment: Patient Education