Atrial fibrillation, or AFib as it is called, is a cardiovascular condition in which patients suffer from an irregular heartbeat – in many cases this can lead to further heart complications down the line, including higher chances of stroke and heart disease.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Doctors will often note atrial fibrillation as an arrythmia, in the vein of a quivery or fluttery heartbeat. This essentially means that the heart is not beating properly, and not on its normal rhythm. As a result of this irregular heartbeat, the blood doesn’t flow properly and in this can lead to issues like heart failure – the inability for the heart to pump blood fast enough or in order to meet the demands of the body.
Under normal circumstances the heart is able to pump blood, initially, the upper part of the heart, the atria, contracts on its own, then the lower area, the ventricles also contract. These successive contractions are the basis for how our blood is pumped from the heart. During AFib, however, the electrical signals which are responsible for these contractions are essentially off-beat. Therefore, rather than working together to pump the blood using these well-timed contractions, they begin to contract at random – unable to properly pump blood in and out in the usual fashion. This can become a huge detriment to normal heart function as the blood flow can slow to the point in which it will pool, and begin to form clots – again, increasing the chances of heart attack and stroke.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
The best way to identify atrial fibrillation is to listen to the heartbeat and listen for irregularities and arrythmias. The most common identifier for AFib is generally a racing heart, however, this may not occur in all patients. Other common symptoms are:
- Chest Pains, and Pressure
- Heart Palpitations or Fluttery Heartbeat
- Confusion and Lack of Focus
- Fatigue, and Faintness
- Shortness of Breath
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial Fibrillation is one of the most common issues associated with an irregular heartbeat. The basic cause of such an irregularity is generally an impediment or damage, within the heart’s electrical signal system, where the two upper chambers, known as the atria, contract and pump blood much faster than usual. As a result, the contractions become out-of-sync from the remaining chambers – the vastly increased speed causes the walls of the heart to “quiver”.
The damaged electrical signal system of the heart can sometimes be caused by another condition of the heart, as well as certain other factors including:
- Age – Older patients can experience AFib without any of the associated symptoms.
- Preexisting heart condition or heart disease.
- Heart Attack
- High Blood Pressure
- Genetic Factors
- Sick Sinus Syndrome – A disorder affecting the heart’s rhythm.
- Lung Disorders –Includes issues such as – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, Emphysema, or Pulmonary Embolism (blood clots within the lungs).
- Lifestyle Issues – Obesity, Sedentary Lifestyle, Poor Diet, Lack of Exercise.
- Certain Viral Infections
- Sleep Apnea
Diagnosis & Treatment
While Atrial Fibrillation can occasionally present with or without symptoms, an irregular heartbeat can easily be diagnosed by listening to the heart using a stethoscope. Generally, your physician will also check all your vitals, review family history, determine other associated issues such as high blood pressure, or plaque build-up.
When treating Atrial Fibrillation your doctor will generally seek the most non-invasive means of treatment, and occasional this issue can be left untreated. However, if and when symptoms persist, or worsen there are a number of different treatment options available – highly dependent upon the symptoms presented and their severity.
Because Atrial Fibrillation is essentially an irregular heartbeat that can cause your blood to thicken, and clot (often leading to stroke), treatment often involves prescription medication to:
- Slow the Heart Rate – Bringing it back to a normal rate.
- Thin the Blood – In order to prevent clotting, and issues such as heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism.
- Normalize the Heart’s Rhythm – Goes hand-in-hand with slowing the heart rate, these medications will slow the electrical signals sent to the heart, and bring the heartbeat back into a normal sinus rhythm.
There are also some more invasive surgical options, however those are generally for patients with the most severe instances of Atrial Fibrillation. If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms or have a history of heart disease in the family, contact us today.