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Q: What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, that can cause serious complications. AF is very common in older patients, affecting 9% of adults over 65. Fortunately, diagnosis and treatment can reduce your risk.

A healthy heart beats with a steady, even rhythm. In contrast, in patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib), the heart's upper chambers beat chaotically. This makes it difficult for the heart to move blood effectively into the lower ventricles, and it can allow blood clots to form. If these clots break free, they can cause a stroke.

The most common symptom of atrial fibrillation is heart palpitations or the sensation of a pounding or fluttering heartbeat. Other symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, sweating, difficulty exercising, and anxiety. Some people with AFib may have no symptoms. However, a doctor can often detect an irregular heartbeat during a routine examination.

To diagnose atrial fibrillation, your doctor might order an electrocardiogram or a monitor you wear at home for an extended period (usually 1-14 days). Treatment begins with addressing the underlying cause of the AFib (such as regular alcohol use, obesity, and sleep apnea). Medications can reduce blood clots and other risk factors for stroke (such as high blood pressure and diabetes).

You can help protect your heart and help reduce your stroke risk by maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, taking medications as prescribed, and working with your doctor and care team to follow your treatment plan.

If you or someone you love has AFib, it is essential to know the symptoms of stroke and call 911 immediately if you notice warning signs. Signs of a stroke include numbness or drooping on one side of the face, weakness in one side of the body, and slurred speech.

The bottom line is that atrial fibrillation is a serious health condition, and many patients successfully manage this condition with lifestyle changes and medications.

Maui Memorial has been recognized by the American Heart Association for excellence in heart and stroke care. Learn more about our services at

Kimble Poon, MD


Wailuku Medical Office - Kaiser Permanente
80 Mahalani Street
Wailuku, HI 96793