Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

Arrhythmia and Fibrillation

Monday, 08 August 2011 10:18 AM

Question: Can you tell me the difference between arrhythmia and fibrillation? Are they the same thing?

Dr. Hibberd's Answer:

Arrhythmia refers to a condition in which the heart rate is abnormal. It may be elevated or depressed, or it may have irregular characteristics, either continuously or episodically. Any symptomatic arrhythmias should always be assessed and managed quickly.

Consider an emergency medical consultation if you think you may have arrhythmias. Sometimes these are the only warnings our hearts give of an impending dangerous or life-threatening condition.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an arrhythmia in which the upper priming chambers of the heart have lost their regularity. Instead of contracting in a regular coordinated fashion, the atrial muscle responds to very rapid AF electrical signals and makes the cardiac walls of these upper chambers (the atria) literally writhe like a bag of worms.

When the AF rate is very high, the atrial muscle quivers and doesn’t contract effectively. Many AF patients are at increased risk of clot formation and stroke.

We use drugs to manage heart rates and sometimes use them to control the electrical signals. We also use electrical shock (cardioversion) for more urgent rhythm correction. Patients may also be offered surgical ablation to cure AF.

If you think you have an irregular heart rate or rhythm, see your doctor for a checkup. If the onset is sudden, go to the emergency department for rapid expert management. AF is best managed as early into the onset as possible.

AF can be controlled, and many new curative treatments are now available. Uncontrolled, untreated AF places us at significantly increased risk for stroke, so do not delay getting medical attention.

© HealthDay

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Monday, 08 August 2011 10:18 AM
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