Heart & Blood Conditions

Expert reports about Heart & Blood Conditions


INFORMATION FOR WOMEN WHO HAVE ATRIAL FIBRILLATION DURING PREGNANCY OR BREASTFEEDING

 

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AF; “A-fib”) is a common type of heart arrhythmia that is characterized by  disorganized activation of the heart muscle cells comprising the muscular wall of the left and right atria, the heart’s two upper chambers. The job of the atria is to receive blood that returns to the heart and pump it into the heart’s lower chambers, the ventricles. Normally, the right atrium receives blood that has finished circulating through the body and sends the blood to the right ventricle, which pumps it into the lungs. Blood returning from the lungs arrives in the left atrium, which then pumps it into the left ventricle whose job is to pump the blood to the body. In order to pump blood into the ventricles, the atrial muscle cells must beat in unison, which can happen only if the cells activate simultaneously. Since the simultaneous activation does not happen in AF, the two atria merely quiver instead of pumping. Typically, when AF occurs in pregnancy, it happens in episodes (it starts and stops), which can go unnoticed, but the woman usually experiences symptoms, particularly palpitations (a sensation of the heartbeat in the chest or sensation of beat irregularity), fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain or discomfort.


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