Did you know atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat? It affects more than 2 million Americans. And according to the American Heart Association, its prevalence is expected to increase as our population ages.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with this condition, it’s important to learn all you can about it to make informed decisions about your treatment. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at atrial fibrillation, including its causes, risk factors, and symptoms.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of arrhythmia (a disorder of the heart rhythm). It occurs when the heart’s upper chambers (the atria) beat abnormally, causing blood to pool and form clots.
Picture this: The heart has four chambers: the two upper chambers are called atria, and the two lower chambers are called ventricles. The atria receive blood from veins that return blood from the body and pump it into the ventricles. The ventricles then pump blood out to the lungs and the rest of the body.
In atrial fibrillation, electrical signals in the heart become disorganized and cause it to beat irregularly. This can lead to a lack of blood flow to the heart and other body parts.
These irregular heartbeats can lead to blood clots forming in the heart. Then, these clots break off and travel to other parts of the body.
If the clots block blood flow, this can lead to a heart attack or stroke. This is why it is important to get treatment for this condition as soon as possible.
What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is caused by an irregular heart rhythm, which can result from many factors. The most common cause include:
- Heart disease. This includes high blood pressure, previous heart attack or stroke, coronary artery disease, and valvular heart disease.
- Arrhythmias. These are abnormal heart rhythms that can cause the heart to beat too fast or too slow.
- Heart failure. This is a condition in which the heart does not pump blood effectively, which can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs and other organs.
- Medications. Certain medications, including some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can cause irregular heart rhythms by affecting the nerves that control your heartbeat.
- Heart surgery. Heart surgery can cause scar tissue to form and interfere with the electrical signals that coordinate your heartbeats.
Who are at risk of Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. However, there are some risk factors that may increase your chance of developing this condition:
- Family history
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
What are the symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation is a common heart rhythm problem that affects millions of people. Often, the first sign of AF is a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
Moreover, symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people don’t have any symptoms at all. Others may experience:
- Palpitations — a feeling as though your heart is beating rapidly or irregularly
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain — often described as the pressure in the chest
- Fatigue — a feeling of weakness or exhaustion
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness that may lead to fainting
How to treat Atrial Fibrillation?
There is no cure for this condition. However, the condition can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. Treatment will depend on your age, overall health, and how severe your symptoms are. Treatment may include:
You can reduce your risk by staying at a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and not smoking. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, work with your doctor to manage these conditions.
Medications can be prescribed to control your heart rate and blood pressure. You’ll need to take these for the rest of your life.
However, they may cause side effects, such as dizziness or drowsiness. Before starting treatment, you should discuss the risks and benefits of taking medication with your doctor.
If you have atrial fibrillation, your doctor may recommend a pacemaker. This device can help control your heart rate by sending electrical pulses through wires that are threaded into your heart.
Cardioversion is a procedure that can be used to convert atrial fibrillation back to normal sinus rhythm. During cardioversion, you are given a short-term electrical shock from electric paddles, which encourages your heart to beat normally again.
Surgery may be an option for people with this condition that doesn’t go away with medications. It may be considered if you develop complications from atrial fibrillation, such as a heart attack or stroke.
The most common type of surgery is called catheter ablation. During this procedure, your doctor uses special tools to find and destroy the abnormal electrical pathways in your heart causing atrial fibrillation.
Can I prevent Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a very common heart condition. It can be caused by a number of different things, but the good news is that there are some things you can do to help prevent it from happening.
Here are some things you can do to prevent AFib:
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease, both risk factors for developing the condition.
Exercise not only helps prevent heart disease and high blood pressure but has also been shown to help control symptoms of atrial fibrillation.
Avoid alcohol and smoking
Alcohol and smoking are both risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation. If you do drink, limit your intake to no more than one drink per day. And if you smoke, consider quitting as soon as possible. The sooner you quit, the lower your risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition that can cause serious health problems. If you experience any of the symptoms of AFib, it’s important to see a doctor immediately. There are many treatments available for AFib, and most people with the condition can live long healthy lives.
If you think you might have AFib, book an appointment with us today. We can help you get started on the road to recovery.