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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Women & Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is defined as chaotic or abnormal electrical signals or pathways in the atria, resulting in an irregular heartbeat. The irregular heartbeat does not allow the atria to contract or squeeze normally. Instead, the atria quiver, decreasing the amount of blood ejected from the heart with each heartbeat.  Atrial fibrillation affects about 5 million Americans, most of them over age 60. This condition is responsible for 15 to 20 percent of all strokes because of blood clot formation within the quivering atria.


During cardiac surgery, a blood clot is removed from the atria to reduce the risk of stroke. Please note: This video may be graphic in nature. There is no audio for this video.

Women & Atrial Fibrillation

Men are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation more often than women, but women diagnosed with atrial fibrillation carry a longer-term risk of premature death. Atrial fibrillation is more likely associated with coronary artery disease in men, while atrial fibrillation is more likey associated with valve disease in women. The incidence of atrial fibrillation increases in both men and women with age, and when they have high blood pressure and diabetes.

Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation

Because atrial fibrillation is a complex disease, the Program for Atrial Fibrillation at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, led by medical director Rod S. Passman, MD offers a multidisciplinary approach to the diagnosis and treatment of patients with atrial fibrillation. After carefully reviewing the patient's medical history and cardiac evaluation, physicians discuss their recommendations for either medical and/or surgical treatment with the patient and the patient's referring physician and/or cardiologist.

Incorporating the patient's referring physician and/or cardiologist into the delivery of care, essentially expanding the "team approach" concept, is highly endorsed and practiced by the Program for Atrial Fibrillation. Patients are followed by atrial fibrillation nurse coordinator Jane Kruse, RN, who is available to answer questions and assist referring cardiologists with patient management.

Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

Patients with atrial fibrillation treated at the Program for Atrial Fibrillation benefit from the most advanced medical and surgical techniques based on the latest evidence-based factors.

Catheter (radiofrequency) ablation, for the treatment of irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias, is a non-surgical procedure performed in the electrophysiology laboratory by specially trained cardiologists called electrophysiologists. Bradley P. Knight, MD, is the director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at Northwestern Memorial and is considered an expert in the management of patients with heart rhythm disorders. Electrophysiology procedures performed at Northwestern incorporate advanced imaging techniques to optimize the success of the procedure.

A variety of surgical procedures that offer the most effective treatment options for atrial fibrillation are available through the Program for Atrial Fibrillation. 

Patrick M. McCarthy, MD, is a nationally recognized expert of the classic Maze procedure. Since many patients experience both atrial fibrillation and mitral valve disease, Dr. McCarthy frequently treats atrial fibrillation during mitral valve surgery.


For more information regarding atrial fibrillation, please call the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 312-694-AFIB (2342) and ask to speak with one of our dedicated atrial fibrillation nurses. Jane Kruse and Mary Navarrete can provide information, answer questions and assist you with treatment options that best fit your needs. You can also request a first-time appointment online.

Clinical Trials

For more information regarding clinical trials related to atrial fibrillation, please visit the Clinical Trials Unit of Northwestern, send an email or call 312-926-4000.

Last UpdateDecember 18, 2013