Atrial fibrillation is also known as AFib. It is a heart disorder that occurs due to an irregular heartbeat. An irregular heartbeat can create a serious problem as it can lead to stroke and various heart diseases. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart known as atria experience chaotic electrical signals. Dizziness, weakness, and fatigue are some of the symptoms or signs of atrial fibrillation. Doctors may prescribe medication, some changes in lifestyle and procedures if required including cardioversion, ablation, pacemakers, or surgery for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.
There are various types of atrial fibrillation and your treatment depends on the type of atrial fibrillation you are suffering from. Check out the various types:
- Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation has been nicknamed as holiday heart syndrome. In this, you will feel that your heart goes in and goes out of the normal rhythm for a duration of less than a week. This problem can last for a few minutes or some days. With this type of atrial fibrillation, you may not need the treatment. But you should try to see a doctor. Sometimes it can happen due to extreme stress.
- Persistent atrial fibrillation: Sometimes this problem can stop on its own. There is also a possibility that you may have to see a doctor in order to stop this problem. This problem stays for more than a week. This problem can be cured with the medicines. If medicines do not work, your doctor may do the procedure of electrical cardioversion.
- Long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation: This problem stays for more than a year and does not go away easily. Medicines and electrical cardioversion procedure do not help to reset the rhythm of your heart back to normal. That is why doctors use ablation technique to restore the normal rhythm of your heart.
- Permanent (chronic) atrial fibrillation: This type of atrial fibrillation is continuous and can be corrected with the treatment. In this, you and your doctor decide whether you need medicines for the long-term or not in order to control the heart rate and stroke risk.
- Valvular atrial fibrillation: This type of atrial fibrillation is caused by a problem of a heart valve. As per the research, around 4% - 30% of people who suffer from atrial fibrillation, are thought to suffer from the valvular atrial fibrillation type.
- Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation: This type of atrial fibrillation does not occur due to a problem of a heart valve. It is important to know whether you are suffering from valvular or nonvalvular so that treatment can be provided accordingly.
Check out the various symptoms of atrial fibrillation:
- Heart palpitations: a feeling that heart is racing or pounding
- Pain and pressure in the chest
- Shortness of breath
As soon as you experience any or some of the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, you should reach out to the best doctors for the consultation.
Check out some of the causes of atrial fibrillation:
- If a person has abnormalities or damage in the structure of heart then it can lead to atrial fibrillation.
- Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Sleep apnea can cause the problem of atrial fibrillation.
- A congenital heart defect is a problem in the structure of heart that exists at the time of birth. This can lead to atrial fibrillation.
- Heart attacks, abnormal heart valves, coronary artery disease are some of the heart diseases that can lead to atrial fibrillation.
- Some of the other common causes of atrial fibrillation are viral infections, sick sinus syndrome, lung diseases, previous heart surgery, high blood pressure, stress due to pneumonia or other illnesses and overactive thyroid gland or other metabolic imbalance.
- Sometimes exposure to various stimulants including medications, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol may lead to the problem of atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation may or may not cause the symptoms. So, there is a possibility that the person who is suffering from atrial fibrillation may not recognise the problem. This problem is hard to recognise. If in any case, your doctor suspects that you are suffering from the problem of atrial fibrillation then he may ask you to get some tests done to diagnose atrial fibrillation. Diagnosis will help the doctor to find out the answer to two questions:
- What is the cause of the problem?
- How can it be treated in the best way?
The various methods used by the doctors to diagnose atrial fibrillation:
1. Physical examination: Generally, people go to a primary care physician for the consultation. In some cases, they may go to a cardiologist, a heart doctor. Those cardiologists who are specialised in irregular heartbeats are known as electrophysiologists. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms, personal habits, medical history and if anyone in your family has this disease. The other things that he may do during the physical examination include listen to your heartbeat's rhythm and rate, listen to your lungs, take your blood pressure and pulse and check for signs of the heart muscle or valve problems.
2. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): It is a painless test that is very helpful. This diagnostic tool helps to measure the heart’s electrical activity. By this test, doctors can see a complete picture of the electrical activity of your heart. This tool helps to know the speed of your heartbeat, the rhythm of your heartbeat and timing and strength of electrical signals passing through your heart. In this, sensors or electrodes are attached to your chest or in some cases to your limbs to record the electrical activity of your heart. This is a quick test so there is a possibility that this test could not help to recognise the problem of atrial fibrillation. That is why a portable electrocardiogram is used to keep a track of your heart activities for a longer period of time.
3. Holter Monitor: This tool continuously helps to record the electrical activity of your heart for 24 - 48 hours. This test is very helpful in recognising the problem of atrial fibrillation. It is similar to the normal electrocardiogram; in this also the electrodes are attached to your chest. There is a small recorder that records all your heart’s electrical activity. Later on, you can visit your doctor with the tool which has all your records.
4. Event monitor: It is very similar to the event monitor. But this records your heart’s electrical activity at only certain times. You have to push a button to record your heart's electrical activity when you feel dizzy, weak, lightheaded, or racing or fluttering heart. It may also record the activity of the heart automatically when it senses that something is off. Your doctor may ask you to wear it for months as long as it takes to record your problem.
5. Stress Test: In this test, some stress is given to your heart in order to check how it responds when you work hard and beat fast. In this test, you will be hooked up to an electrocardiogram and your heart rate and blood pressure will be checked. You may be asked to do the exercises during this test.
6. Echocardiogram: This test helps a doctor to know the size and shape of your heart, areas of poor blood flow, how well the heart chambers and valves are working, where the heart muscle isn't contracting in the right way, and previous injuries poor blood flow has caused.
7. Chest X-ray: The chest X-ray cannot tell if a person is suffering from atrial fibrillation. But it can show the other problems such as an enlarged heart and fluid buildup.
8. Blood tests: Blood tests can help the doctor to know what may be the causes of atrial fibrillation. Tests can tell if a person has an infection, thyroid, kidney problems, signs of a heart attack, and more.
If you want to prevent the heart disorder of atrial fibrillation, then you must live a healthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of various heart diseases. In order to get prevention from atrial fibrillation, you must take care of all of these things:
- Limit or avoid the intake of caffeine and alcohol
- Have a heart-healthy diet
- Do more physical activities
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Take less stress
- Avoid smoking
- Take over-the-counter medicines with caution
If the symptoms of atrial fibrillation are severe then it should be treated as early as possible. The various treatment options that are available include medications, nonsurgical procedures, and surgery. These options help to slow your heartbeat and bring it back into a normal rhythm. Not only this, treatment also prevents the formation of clots and keeps your heart healthy.
1. Medications: The medicines are taken to slow the heart rate, control the rhythm of the heart and prevent clots and strokes.
- Heart rate medicines: The best way to treat atrial fibrillation is with medicines. Medicines help to slow your rapid heart rate so that your heart can pump properly. Digoxin (Lanoxin) is a common medicine taken by most of the people suffering from atrial fibrillation for controlling heart rate. Beta-blockers are the other drugs used to slow the heart rate. Calcium channel blockers are the medicines used to slow the heart rate and tone down contractions.
- Heart rhythm medicines: These medicines are used to bring normal sinus rhythm. Sodium channel blockers are used to slow the ability of your heart to conduct electricity. Potassium channel blockers are used to slow the electrical signals that cause atrial fibrillation.
- Blood thinners: These drugs are taken to thin your blood to lower the risk of having various problems associated with atrial fibrillation. Apixaban (Eliquis), aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), dabigatran (Pradaxa) and enoxaparin (Lovenox) are some of the common blood thinners.
2. Nonsurgical procedures: If the medicines do not work on the patients suffering from atrial fibrillation then various procedures are used:
- Electrical cardioversion: In this, a doctor gives you a shock through the paddles or patches on your chest in order to regulate your heartbeat.
- Catheter ablation: It is a non-surgical procedure in which the doctor puts a tube into a blood vessel in your neck or leg and guides it to your heart. The main two types of catheter ablation are radiofrequency ablation and cryoablation.
3. Surgical procedures: These involve cutting into your chest. There can be three types including maze procedure, mini maze, and convergent procedure.
There are various complications that are associated with atrial fibrillation including:
- Atrial fibrillation can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Sometimes, it can even threaten your life.
- Due to this problem, a clot can be formed. If the clot reaches the brain then it can lead to a stroke.
- If atrial fibrillation left untreated then it can lead to the condition of cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy can cause long-term disability and heart failure.
Check out the various myths of atrial fibrillation:
Myth #1: Only older people can suffer from the problem of atrial fibrillation.
Myth #2 : Drinking coffee can lead to atrial fibrillation.
Myth #3: You would never know that if are suffering from atrial fibrillation.
Myth #4: The biggest danger that can happen due to atrial fibrillation is a heart attack.
Myth #5: If you are suffering from sleep apnea then you will get atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is a problem of irregular heartbeat. It can cause a serious threat to your life if not treated properly on it. Sometimes it can lead to the formation of clots which can cause a stroke. So, as soon as you experience any of the symptoms of this problem, you should look from the best doctors around you. Various treatment methods are used to treat the people suffering from atrial fibrillation including medications, nonsurgical procedures and, surgery.
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