Atrial Fibrillation

The Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center team of cardiologists, cardiac electrophysiologists, surgeons and clinical nurse specialists are world leaders in treating atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heart rhythm.

We work together to restore normal rhythm to your heart. In addition, our clinical team actively leads research to develop newer, more effective treatments.

We invite you to fill out our atrial fibrillation treatment options form so our doctors can get started creating a personalized treatment plan for you.  

Atrial Fibrillation Care: Why Choose Us?

The Heart & Vascular Center arrhythmia team consists of world-renowned experts in atrial fibrillation treatment. In fact, a revolutionary procedure, the Cox-Maze for atrial fibrillation, was developed here by a former Washington University doctor. We continue to serve as a center of research and innovation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.

We are committed to helping you live your life without pain or other symptoms, using the least invasive treatment possible so you can recover quickly. At our center, you will find:

  • Excellent outcomes: We see a high number of patients every year, giving us a depth of expertise in treating atrial fibrillation. We achieve excellent outcomes for our patients.
  • Unique expertise: Everyone on our team has extensive experience with atrial fibrillation. Whether you have a routine condition or a complex one, we ensure you get the most appropriate, effective and personalized care possible.
  • Innovation: We are currently researching noninvasive ways to map atrial fibrillation, without using catheter procedures. We can locate the precise area of the abnormal heart rhythm, allowing us to perform a targeted treatment.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

A cardiac arrhythmia is an irregularity in your heart’s electrical system. Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. It originates in the upper chambers of your heart, the right and left atria. During atrial fibrillation:

  1. Your heart beats irregularly and often rapidly, instead of in a steady rhythm.
  2. This change causes the heart’s chambers to quiver (fibrillate).
  3. Atrial fibrillation may also affect the lower chambers of the heart, known as the ventricles, causing the pulse to become irregular and too fast.

While atrial fibrillation is treatable and generally not life threatening, an accurate diagnosis and individualized treatment plan is important. The condition can cause several problems, some of them serious:

  • Palpitations, resulting in discomfort and anxiety
  • Inefficient blood circulation
  • Pooling of blood in the atria, which increases your chances of clotting and stroke
  • Congestive heart failure from the heart having to work too hard, with particular risk if you also have other heart problems like valvular heart disease

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can resemble those of other heart disorders. If you experience any symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for an expert diagnosis.

You may have atrial fibrillation and not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may experience:

  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to exercise
  • Chest discomfort or anxiety

Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation

We begin diagnosing the condition by asking you about your symptoms and medical history. We take time to listen to you so we can gain a better understanding of your situation.

After a physical examination, we typically perform an electrocardiogram (EKG), a painless procedure with several steps:

  1. We place electrodes on your chest.
  2. The electrodes record your heart’s electrical activity.
  3. You need to have an episode of atrial fibrillation during the EKG, so this test works best for patients with persistent atrial fibrillation.

If you have intermittent atrial fibrillation, you may need to wear a portable monitor for a 24- or 48-hour period. The device, called a Holter monitor, records your heart’s electrical activity while you wear it.

Atrial Fibrillation Treatments

We have one of the most experienced teams in the country for treating atrial fibrillation. Our arrhythmia team tailors an individualized treatment plan to your needs. We make sure you understand your treatment options and are comfortable with the care plan before we begin treatment.

The goals of atrial fibrillation treatment are to reduce your symptoms and lower your risk of stroke and heart failure.

Treatments include:

  • Medications: Medications can control and restore regular heart rhythm, as well as prevent clots.
  • Electrical cardioversion: This procedure delivers a controlled shock to the heart to restore normal rhythm.
  • Catheter ablation: Ablation uses special tubes (catheters) to deliver heat or cold energy to your heart. The energy creates scars that stop the abnormal electrical impulses. Read more about catheter ablation.
  • Surgical ablation (Cox-Maze procedure): The Cox-Maze procedure is a highly specialized treatment for atrial fibrillation. Dr. James Cox, a former Washington University doctor, developed the Cox-Maze right here at our center. Learn more about Cox-Maze for atrial fibrillation.
  • Stroke-reducing procedures: These procedures are an important part of atrial fibrillation treatment, since a stroke is one of the most serious complications of the condition. Find out more about our innovative stroke-reducing procedures.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University atrial fibrillation specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call [Dynamic_Phone_Number].

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