Atrial fibrillation, sometimes called AFib, is a heart arrhythmia that affects the upper chamber of the heart muscle. The electrical signal that causes the upper chamber of the heart to contract becomes irregular, which results in chaotic signals to the lower chamber. Periods of these irregular signals can be intermittent, or they can be constant. This dysfunction can lead to pooling of blood in the heart and the formation of clots that can travel to the brain, leading to a stroke. Afib can often be a “silent” condition with no symptoms, and it may not cause any health issues. However, AFib can cause blood clots to form, which can then lead to blockages in blood flow in other parts of the body. Treatment for AFib is available to prevent serious complications from this condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is often referred to as a “silent” health problem. Some people who have the arrhythmia will experience no symptoms. Unfortunately, this can lead them to think there is nothing wrong, when in fact, they are vulnerable to blood clots that are associated with this condition. The condition may lead to blood clots forming in the upper chamber of the heart that can break off and travel through the body. These clots can lead to stroke and other serious issues, such as pulmonary embolism. Other individuals with AFib may experience vague symptoms, such as fatigue, chest pain, racing heartbeat, palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, fainting, dizziness or weakness. If you have these symptoms, talk to your doctor to discuss possible treatment for Afib. Atrial fibrillation is more common among those of European background and affects more women than men.
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
Certain health issues can increase your risk for developing AFib, such as age, family history, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. In addition, a number of health issues can contribute to the development of atrial fibrillation. These include:
- Existing coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- Congenital heart defects
- Heart valve issues
- High blood pressure
- Lung conditions
- Past heart surgery
- Stress on the heart from surgery or other health problem
- Untreated sleep apnea
- Untreated thyroid conditions
- Viral infections
- Ongoing stress
- Stimulant use (eg: caffeine)
Treating Atrial Fibrillation
Your physician will administer a number of tests to detect arrhythmias in the heart. A thorough physical exam will reveal your general condition and any obvious health issues that might affect your heart. The doctor will listen to your heart and lungs to detect any abnormalities in function. Blood tests often reveal underlying conditions that may affect the heart. An electrocardiogram will be administered to determine if your heart’s electrical signals are normal. An echocardiogram test will be done to check if blood flow and the heart’s muscle contractions are normal. A portable heart rate monitor may be provided to check how your heart functions throughout the day. Based on these tests the physician will determine what type of treatment is required. You may be given medications to stabilize your heart rate. You may also be given blood-thinning medications to prevent blood clots and the risk of stroke. The doctor will monitor your condition on an ongoing basis to ensure you are receiving the appropriate treatment for your condition. Other procedures, including surgery, may be needed to stabilize your heart rate.
Atrial fibrillation is a common health problem that can be effectively treated with medications and therapies that improve heart function and prevent serious complications. Your physician can help you manage your condition, so you can avoid dangerous blood clots that may result from AFib.