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All You Need to Know about Atrial Fibrillation

Overview

Atrial fibrillation (Afib), is an abnormal and often rapid heart rate seen in most Indians Many with Atrial fibrillation are unaware that it increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, and other complicated heart conditions. While there is no proper data, most of the studies in Indian point that a maximum of six per every 1000 suffers from this condition. Often, atrial fibrillation symptoms include weakness, irregular heartbeat ,heart palpitations and shortness of breath.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and chaotic rhythm (electrical disorder) that comes from the heart’s upper chambers of the heart. Normally, the heart’s upper two chambers generate electrical activity at 60-100 times a minute, but in atrial fibrillation patients, the upper chamber beats at 400-500 times per minute. Luckily, ‘AV node’, the junction between the lower and upper chamber, allows only a few of those signals to reach the lower chamber. Despite this, the lower chambers still can beat as fast as 150-200 times per minute.

Is Atrial Fibrillation Dangerous?

Atrial fibrillation episodes may either come or go away, or may not go away and may need treatment immediately. While atrial fibrillation is generally not life-threatening, it is a serious condition that often needs emergency treatment. It can lead to complications like formation of blood clots in the heart that may travel to other organs and may cause ischemia or blocked blood flow. It can also decrease your quality of life by reducing your exercise tolerance or making you prone to tiresomeness

What are the Symptoms of Afib?

There are examples of people who suffer from atrial fibrillation but does not show any sign until it is found in a physical examination.  But, most of the others suffering from it may show symptoms including:

  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Decreased ability to exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Palpitations (flip-flopping, irregular heartbeat, sensations of racing in the chest)

Are there different types of Atrial Fibrillation?

Doctors have classified Atrial Fibrillation as following: 

  • Permanent: Afib happens when the condition continues for an unspecified period and, where the doctor along with the patient, decides to stop further treatment to bring back the real heart rhythm.
  • Long-standing: This type of Afib is continuous and extends longer than 12 months
  • Occasional or “Paroxysmal”: This occurs when your heart’s rhythm returns back to normal on its own within 7 days of its beginning. You may experience that symptoms may last for a few minutes to a few hours and then stops by itself.
  • Persistent: In this type of Afib, your improper rhythm persists or continues for more than seven days and does not get back to normal on its own. If you suffer from persistent atrial fibrillation, you may require treatment like medications or an electrical shock to restore the rhythm of your heart.

What are the Causes?

The most common cause of atrial fibrillation is damage to the structure of the heart or abnormalities in it. Other possible causes of Afib include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Congenital heart diseases
  • Earlier heart surgery
  • Sleep apnea
  • Lung diseases
  • Exposure to stimulants like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine or medications
  • Overactive thyroid gland including other metabolic imbalance
  • Viral infections
  • Stress due to surgery, pneumonia or other illnesses

Nonetheless, some people with atrial fibrillation do not have any heart damage or defects, which is called lone atrial fibrillation. Thankfully, in lone atrial fibrillation, while the cause is often not clear, serious complications are also rare.

What are the risk factors?

Some factors raises your risk of developing atrial fibrillation. They include:

  • Heart disease: If you have a heart problem, such as congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, heart valve problems, atrial flutter ,heart failure, or a history of heart surgery or heart attack, you are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
  • Age: Aging can be a significant factor to increase your risk of developing Afib.
  • High blood pressure: If you suffer from high blood pressure, especially if it is not controlled well with medicines or lifestyle modifications, you are an increased risk of atrial fibrillation
  • Obesity: Overweight or obese people are at a greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
  • Alcohol Consumption: For few, alcohol drinking can prompt an episode of Afib. Binge drinking is more dangerous and may put you at an even greater risk.
  • Other chronic conditions: People with some chronic problems like thyroid conditions, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, lung disease, chronic kidney disease or diabetes have a greater risk of atrial fibrillation.
  • Family history. Some families are prone to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

When to see a doctor?

If experience any atrial fibrillation symptoms, see your doctor. Based on your condition, your doctor may seek an ECG (electrocardiogram) to find out if your symptoms are linked to atrial fibrillation or any other heart rhythm disorder.

If experience chest pain, it could be a heart attack. Call your local emergency healthcare provider immediately.

How to prevent it?

It is vital to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle to decrease your risk of heart disease and also prevent atrial fibrillation. A healthy lifestyle includes:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Having a heart-healthy diet
  • Avoid/Quit smoking
  • Reduce/maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit/avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Reduce stress (Intense stress and/or anger can cause heart rhythm issues
  • Be careful in using certain OTC (over-the-counter) medicines, as a few cough and cold medicines contain stimulants that can trigger rapid heart-beat

Conclusion

The most important thing you can do to prevent atrial fibrillation is to adopt and live the healthiest life possible.  You have to exercise regularly and take a heart-healthy checkup regularly to determine if you are at risk. Take a resolution today to slow down the aging process of your heart.

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