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Experts Point Out Signs of Dangerous Heart Rhythm

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- People who experience what feels like drums pounding in their chest, shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness may suffer from the common but potentially dangerous heart arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is an overly rapid, abnormal heartbeat that is more common with advancing age. The condition can cause blood to pool in the heart's upper chambers (atria) and increase the risk that the heart will "throw" a clot, potentially leading to stroke.

According to the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS), more than 2 million Americans are already living with the condition, which increases the risk of stroke five-fold. And as the population ages, researchers project that number to surge over the next 40 years.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) can also adversely affect people's quality of life, resulting in chronic fatigue and debilitating pain.

"AF is the most common heart arrhythmia and, unfortunately, many people know very little about AF and just how serious it can be to someone's long-term health," HRS president Dr. Bruce Wilkoff said in a news release issued by the group. "The Heart Rhythm Society has developed some tools to help and encourage all Americans to learn more about AF by becoming aware of warning signs, risks and treatment options that could potentially save lives."

Warning signs of atrial fibrillation may include:

  • Feelings of pounding in your chest, like rumbling thunder, drums pounding or fish flopping.
  • Frequent palpitations (the feeling that your heart has skipped a beat)
  • Shortness of breath following physical exertion
  • Reduced capacity for exercise
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting spells or dizziness

Treatments for the condition can help control these symptoms and restore normal heart rhythm, preventing blood clots and stroke, the HRS said.

Some people may be more prone to atrial fibrillation than others. According to the HRS, the most common risk factors include:

  • Being older than 60 years of age
  • Having diabetes
  • Having other heart problems, such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure
  • Suffering from thyroid disease or chronic lung disease
  • Having sleep apnea
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or taking stimulants
  • Having a serious illness or infection

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on atrial fibrillation.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: The Heart Rhythm Society, news release, September 2011

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