Heart Disease Home > Atrial Fibrillation After Cardiac Surgery

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery may include a rapid heart rate or a pounding in your chest. This abnormal rhythm is caused by too many electrical signals in the upper heart chambers or atria. The reason this abnormal rhythm sometimes occurs after cardiac surgery is unknown. However, your doctor can treat atrial fibrillation, should it occur.

(Technically speaking, an open heart surgery is any procedure where the chest is opened, which certainly includes procedures beyond a heart bypass (a valve replacement, for example). However, because a heart bypass is the most common type of open heart surgery, for the purposes of this article, we will be using the terms "bypass" and "open heart surgery" interchangeably.)

Understanding How the Heart Beats

Before we discuss the specifics of atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery, you should know a little about the normal process of a heartbeat.
Your heart is able to beat because it sends electrical signals from an area in your heart called the SA node, or the main pacemaker.
In a normal situation, the electrical signals cause the upper parts of the heart to beat together. This pushes blood into the lower parts of the heart. Then, as the electrical signals continue through the heart, the lower chambers contract to push blood out of the heart.
Sometimes, things go wrong in the heart's electrical pathways. After open heart surgery, when the heart is recovering, the electrical signals can become disorganized. This creates abnormal heartbeats. The heart may beat too slowly, too rapidly, or just irregularly.
Irregular heart rhythms are a relatively common occurrence after cardiac surgery. Fortunately, most of these are brief and cause no symptoms.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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