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Understanding Atrial F ibrillation Questions & Answers with an expert What is atrial fibrillation? Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia, or heart rhythm disorder. It occurs when the heart’s electrical impulses don’t work correctly, causing the heart to beat faster than normal or have an erratic rhythm. AFib can cause blood clots in critical organs like the heart, which can then lead to stroke. In fact, people who have AFib are five times more likely to suffer from a stroke. How is AFib detected? A provider often uses a combination of criteria to detect if someone has AFib. These can include reviewing medical history and conducting a physical examination before determining if any specific tests are needed to identify a condition. A painless heart-monitoring test can measure a heart’s electrical activity. Other tests can measure the heartbeat during an episode of AFib to identify whether or not the rhythm is irregular. What are the types of AFib? There are three main types of atrial fibrillation: paroxysmal, persistent and permanent atrial fibrillation. Each type varies in how long episodes last and how it responds to treatment.Paroxysmal AFib generally stops on its own,while persistent AFib can last for more than a week. How is it treated? After considering factors such as age, symptoms, and frequency of episodes, a provider will create a treatment plan. Lifestyle changes, medications, and procedures may be recommended to either restore the heart to a normal rhythm, or normalize the heartbeat rate. Therapies to prevent blood clots and stroke are also important. What puts you at risk for AFib? There are a variety of factors that can raise someone’s risk for developing AFib. The factors can include: • Congestive heart failure • Diabetes • Family history • Heart abnormalities • Heavy alcohol use • High blood pressure • Obesity • Obstructive sleep apnea • Older age • Thyroid disease How does it feel? Some people do not experience any symptoms from AFib. However, others may feel their heart racing or skipping a beat. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, dizziness, exhaustion and chest pain. It is essential for those with any type of AFib to know the signs of a stroke. Those who experience loss of balance, numbness and confusion should see a doctor right away. A provider may also advise treatment for underlying health issues such as obesity, heart disease, thyroid problems and high blood pressure that may contribute Colby Halsey, MD to AFib. Colby Halsey, MD, is an electrophysiologist at Sanford Clinic in Bismarck. Dr. Halsey earned his medical degree at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, Vt. and did his residency at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. Dr. Halsey completed a fellowship in cardiovascular disease and clinical cardiac electrophysiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mi. He is also a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine. Dr. Halsey is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease and clinical cardiac electrophysiology.