Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Signs include dizziness, weakness and fatigue. Treatment involves medication and lifestyle changes, and sometimes procedures such as cardioversion, ablation, pacemakers or surgery.
During atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart.
Atrial fibrillation symptoms often include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness. The impulse travels to the atrioventricular (AV) node, located in the septum (near the middle of the heart). The AV node is the only electrical bridge that allows the impulses to travel from the atria to the ventricles. The impulse travels through the walls of the ventricles, causing them to contract. They squeeze and pump blood out of the heart. The right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs, and the left ventricle pumps blood to the body.
Episodes of atrial fibrillation may come and go, or you may develop atrial fibrillation that doesn’t go away and may require treatment. Although atrial fibrillation itself usually isn’t life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that sometimes requires emergency treatment. Atrial fibrillation may be temporary, may come and go or may be permanent. It’s also most common in adults. But with proper medical care, you can live a normal, active life.
Types of Atrial fibrillation
• Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: AF attacks that last for less than 24 hours
• Persistent atrial fibrillation: AF attacks that last for more than seven days and require treatment
• Long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation: AF that has continued for more than a year
Symptoms for Atrial fibrillation
Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition until it’s discovered during a physical examination. While the attacks of atrial fibrillation do not pose any life-threatening health issues, but the doctors consider it a severe medical condition. One of the major health concerns with atrial fibrillation includes the development of blood clots within the upper chambers of the heart. Those who do have atrial fibrillation symptoms may experience signs and symptoms such as:
- Palpitations, which are sensations of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat or a flip-flopping in your chest.
- Heart palpitation (feeling like your heart is skipping a beat, beating too fast or hard or fluttering)
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Light headedness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
These symptoms can come and go based on the severity of your condition. For example, paroxysmal A fib is a type of atrial fibrillation that resolves on its own without medical intervention. But you may need to take medication to prevent future episodes and potential complications.
Causes of Atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that occurs when the two upper chambers of your heart experience chaotic electrical signals. The result is a fast and irregular heart rhythm. The heart rate in atrial fibrillation may range from 100 to 175 beats a minute. The normal range for a heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute.
Your heart is made up of four chambers two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Within the upper right chamber of your heart (right atrium) is a group of cells called the sinus node. This is your heart’s natural pacemaker. The sinus node produces the signal that normally starts each heartbeat.
- Heart valve disease.
- Heart muscle disease.
- Heart disease due to high blood pressure.
- Heart defects at birth.
- Heart failure.
- Inflammation of the outer lining of the heart (pericardium).
- Previous heart surgery.
- Drug and alcohol abuse.
- Thyroid disorders.
You might not need treatment if you don’t have symptoms, if you don’t have other heart problems, or if the atrial fibrillation stops on its own.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG).An ECG uses small sensors (electrodes) attached to your chest and arms to sense and record electrical signals as they travel through your heart. This test is a primary tool for diagnosing atrial fibrillation.
- Holter monitor.This portable ECG device is carried in your pocket or worn on a belt or shoulder strap. It records your heart’s activity for 24 hours or longer, which provides your doctor with a prolonged look at your heart rhythms.
- Blood tests. These help your doctor rule out thyroid problems or other substances in your blood that may lead to atrial fibrillation.
- Stress test. Also called exercise testing, stress testing involves running tests on your heart while you’re exercising.
- Chest X-ray. X-ray images help your doctor see the condition of your lungs and heart. Your doctor can also use an X-ray to diagnose conditions other than atrial fibrillation that may explain your signs and symptoms.
The strategy you and your doctor choose depends on many factors, including whether you have other problems with your heart and if you’re able to take medications that can control your heart rhythm. In some cases, you may need a more invasive treatment, such as medical procedures using catheters or surgery. If you do require treatment, your doctor may recommend the following types of medications:
- Beta – blockers to decrease your heart rate
- Calcium channel blockers to relax arterial muscles and decrease overall heart rate.
- Resetting your heart’s rhythm. Ideally, to treat atrial fibrillation, the heart rate and rhythm are reset to normal. To correct your condition, doctors may be able to reset your heart to its regular rhythm (sinus rhythm) using a procedure called cardio version, depending on the underlying cause of atrial fibrillation and how long you’ve had it.
- Sodium or potassium channel blockers to control heart rhythm.
- Digitalis glycosides to strengthen your heart contractions.
- Blood thinners to prevent blood clots from forming.
- This is an invasive surgery that can be either open-heart or through small incisions in the chest, during which the surgeon makes small cuts or burns in the heart’s atria to create a “maze” of scars that will prevent abnormal electrical impulses from reaching other areas of the heart. This surgery is only used in cases when other treatments were unsuccessful.
- Sometimes medications or cardio version to control atrial fibrillation doesn’t work. In those cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure to destroy the area of heart tissue that’s causing the erratic electrical signals and restore your heart to a normal rhythm
Most cases of atrial fibrillation can be managed or treated. But atrial fibrillation tends to reoccur and get worse over time.
The basics include not smoking, following a heart-healthy Mediterranean-style diet (high in plant-based foods, fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fats), being physically active and keeping to a normal weight (as indicated on a body-mass index chart). You can reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation by doing the following:
- Eat a diet that’s rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated and trans fat.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid smoking.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or only drink small amounts of alcohol occasionally.
- Follow your doctor’s advice for treating any underlying health conditions that you have.
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