If you've ever used the phrase "my heart skipped a beat," most likely it was a romantic exaggeration. But what if that feeling was real? Atrial fibrillation, usually referred to as heart arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat, is a common yet potentially deadly heart condition.

Know the symptoms

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the muscles of the heart are sent frequent, irregular electrical impulses. As a result of these irregular impulses, your heart may feel like it is fluttering, racing or even a little bit of both. You may not think anything of these symptoms or know anything is wrong. However, since atrial fibrillation may lower blood flow to certain parts of the body, you may experience dizziness, fainting, weakness or shortness of breath. If you have sleep apnea, high blood pressure, another underlying abnormal heart condition or other chronic health problems, you could be at risk.

Is atrial fibrillation dangerous?

Doctors usually consider atrial fibrillation non-life threatening. Many people occasionally experience heart palpitations from excess caffeine, cold medicine or alcohol. Yet, in certain circumstances, atrial fibrillation can be serious. Patients with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke. Also, if atrial fibrillation is rapid and lasts long enough, the heart can become overworked and weakened, contributing to heart failure.

Treatments and corrective measures

Atrial fibrillation can be treated in a number of ways. It could be as simple as cutting down on caffeine or alcohol to prevent the heart from working too hard. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine that can slow down rapid heart rate. These drugs, known as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, slow down conduction of the electrical discharges that cause the heart to beat rapidly. Blood-thinning medicine is often prescribed to prevent blood clots.

If medicine doesn't help, physicians have other non-surgical and surgical procedures from which they can choose to try to reset your normal heart rate. In some cases, a pacemaker may be used to correct the issue.

If you notice you have an irregular heartbeat, and not just when you're around your sweetheart, make sure to speak with your physician immediately.

To find a doctor or speak to a nurse, call Riverside Community Hospital at (951) 788-3463 today.

Ongoing treatment of atrial fibrillation is important for living a long, healthy life.

Sources: Heart.org, National Institute Of Health