Ask the Cardiologist: What’s the difference between Atrial and Ventricular Fibrillation?

systolic blood pressureDr. Maciej Malinski is on the medical staff at Sherman Hospital. He has been kind enough to answer some frequently asked questions related to maintaining a healthy heart in his Ask the Cardiologist series. To see all posts Dr. Malinski has written, just type “Ask the Cardiologist” into the search bar on the right.

Q: “I have congestive heart failure and twice I felt fibrillations that self terminated after 3 seconds. Could it be a transient ventricular fibrillation? Or is it an atrial fibrillation? I know I had fibrillations for just 2-3 seconds but during the fibrillations there weren’t contractions, I just felt a fibrillation then suddenly my heart back to normal. Can it still be an atrial fibrillation? Or is possible that I had a self-terminated v-fib?

A: In regards to your question, you should see your cardiologist. Usually arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats) like atrial fibrillation or ventricular fibrillation do not last 2-3 seconds.

Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal electrical activity in the upper chambers of the heart (atria), resulting in uncoordinated contraction of the muscular bundles in these chambers. As a result, there is no coordinated contraction in the upper chamber, causing less blood being pumped and the stagnant blood flow along chamber walls.

Because of the loss of a coordinated electrical signal and the fact that there are multiple sources of electrical activity, lower chambers are stimulated at a very frequent rate and the average heart rate is increased to about 100-150 beats per minute. Faster heart rate and loss of some function can cause congestive heart failure and patient may feel palpitations and shortness of breath.

But many patients have atrial fibrillation and do not feel it. The slow blood flow in upper chambers can result in the formation of blood clots (thrombus), and if it is dislodged and the blood carries it to the brain, it will cause a stroke. To prevent stoke, doctors usually start patients on so-called blood “thinners”, Coumadin. Few patients who are low risk for stroke can be treated with aspirin, Plavix, or a combination of both instead of Coumadin. This course of therapy has to be determined by the physician.

Ventricular fibrillation is an abnormal activity in lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). It is usually a consequence of serious heart disease. This arrhythmia results in an uncoordinated contraction of the muscular bundles in ventricles, causing the loss of their pumping function. Ventricular fibrillation is a leading cause of sudden cardiac death (SCD). If one is lucky the arrhythmia terminates itself, but if not the patient has cardiac arrest. If the patient is saved by successful resuscitation, the follow up treatment is complex and requires comprehensive workup done by your cardiologist.

Do you have a question for Dr. Malinski? To submit your question, either post it in the comments section below or email with the subject line “Question for Dr. Malinski.” To schedule the essential (and painless) $79 Healthy Heart CT Scan, click here.

This post is published by Sherman Health to provide general health information. It is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.

About Sherman Health

Sherman Health has provided medical care to Northern IL since 1888, and is currently home to a network of over 600 physicians. The Sherman blogs are edited by me, Luke. Questions? Comments? Links? Email address is luke at shermanhealth dot com.
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2 Responses to Ask the Cardiologist: What’s the difference between Atrial and Ventricular Fibrillation?

  1. Navreet says:

    Can atrial fibrillation later on result in ventricle fibrillation…if not,why they are not interrelated

  2. Thanks for your question, Navreet! Dr. Malinski has answered it and the post will be live on the blog shortly.

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