Atrial Fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Affecting more than 30 million people worldwide, atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm affecting the upper chambers of the heart (atria). Those with AFib are at an increased risk of suffering a stroke or developing heart-related issues. People with AFib often experience a heart rate ranging from 100-175 beats per minute; normal is 60-100 bpm.

Causes of atrial fibrillation

Existing damage to the heart or congenital heart defects, including abnormal heart valves, are some common causes of AFib. The condition may also develop in individuals with coronary artery disease or those who have had a heart attack or heart surgery for an unrelated issue.

Contributing factors

  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Irregularities with the heart’s natural pacemaker
  • Viral infections
  • Sleep apnea
  • Pneumonia-related stress

What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?

Health risks associated with AFib remain the same whether or not symptoms are experienced. Episodes tend to be sporadic, although some people may experience a constant irregular heartbeat.

Symptoms include

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • General weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue

Atrial Fibrillation Causes

Damage to the heart’s electrical system causes atrial fibrillation. In the great majority of cases, atrial fibrillation results from other conditions and forms of heart disease.

Causes include

  • Aging
  • Genetics
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart birth defects
  • Inflamed membrane or sac around the heart (pericarditis)
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Lung disease
  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infections caused by a virus
  • High doses of steroids

How is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?

Treatment for atrial fibrillation depends on several factors, including the duration and severity of symptoms and what’s causing the irregular rhythm.

Treatment includes

  • Medical (with drugs) or electrical cardioversion to reset the heart’s normal rhythm
  • Anti-arrhythmic medications (given after electrical cardioversion)
  • Heart rate control medications (calcium channel blockers, beta blockers)
  • Catheter ablation (insertion of a catheter to correct the arrhythmia)
  • Surgical maze procedure (to create scar tissue to reduce stay electrical impulses)

While rare, AFib can occur without related heart issues (lone atrial fibrillation). Most occurrences of atrial fibrillation can be managed with medication, periodic monitoring, and proactive lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, minimizing alcohol consumption, and keeping any underlying conditions under control.

Atrial Fibrillation Prevention

Anything that prevents heart disease is good for preventing atrial fibrillation, according to the American Heart Association.

Such preventive measures might include

  • Maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle
  • Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise activity three times a week or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise. You can mix the two styles
  • To lower blood pressure or cholesterol, do 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise three to four times a week such as walking, jogging, swimming or biking
  • If you’re new to exercising or returning after a long layoff, consult your doctor for approval and suggestions. Then start slowly and build up, especially if you are overweight or obese
  • To improve stamina and flexibility, add strength and stretching exercises to your routine
  • Walk
  • Treat existing conditions that may lead to atrial fibrillation
  • Limit sugar, salt, and fat in your diet
  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume
  • Eat a healthier diet to control your weight. You can find heart-healthy food suggestions from the American Heart Association and many other sources, including your local bookstore
  • Avoid cough and cold medicines that contain stimulants, which make your heart beat faster
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