Atrial fibrillation is a condition of the heart, where it beats rapidly and irregularly. A normal heartbeat is between 60 and 100 per minute. Someone with atrial fibrillation will experience a rate of well-above 100 beats per minute. Being aware of the atrial fibrillation signs, symptoms and treatments is important, because it can be life-saving.
People with the condition experience shortness of breath, dizziness, and tiredness. Some of the atrial fibrillation signs, symptoms and treatments are easy to notice, such as an irregular heartbeat, or fluttering and pounding of the heart. This can last up to a few minutes at a time. Sometimes, however, the condition is fully asymptomatic and people don’t know they have it at all.
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation:
In a healthy heart, the walls of the heart contract, forcing blood out and pushing it through the body. They then relax, allowing the heart to fill again. This is repeated with each beat. In someone with atrial fibrillation, the contraction is quick and random, stopping the heart from properly relaxing. This makes it less efficient as well. It is caused by improper electrical impulses in the atria, overriding the natural pacemaker of the heart.
It isn’t really understood why this happens, although it is more common in some groups of people. For them, it is even more important to be aware of the various atrial fibrillation signs, symptoms and treatments, so they can seek medical attention as soon as needed.
There are different types, or degrees, of atrial fibrillation. These include:
- Paroxysmal, whereby there are irregular episodes, which tend to stop within no more than 48 hours.
- Persistent, whereby an episode lasts for at least a week if untreated.
- Long-standing persistent, whereby it is continuous for at least one year.
The condition is the most common of all heart rhythm problems and millions of people are affected by it. Those most at risk are:
- The elderly, with 7% of those over the age of 65 being affected by it.
- People with underlying health conditions such as heart valve problems, atherosclerosis, or hypertension.
Key Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation:
It is common for people not to notice the symptoms at all. Rather, when a routine test is performed, a physician may pick up on the fact that it is there. Usually, a cardioversion is then performed, which means the heart is shocked back to its normal rhythm, and this resolves the issue. People with atrial fibrillation often complain of feeling lethargic and tired, and believe that this is a normal sign of aging. In reality, however, it is often caused by the condition.
Palpitations are a telltale sign of the condition. This leaves people feeling as if their heartbeat is irregular, fluttering, or pounding. It often lasts for just a few minutes. A high heart rate is also associated, but this is only noticed during a measurement. Other common symptoms include chest pain, feeling lightheaded or faint, breathlessness, and tiredness.
If left untreated, the condition can lead to hypotension (low blood pressure). Eventually, it can also lead to heart failure. This is why it is so important to seek medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms. A physician is likely to then hook you up to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine to confirm a diagnosis.
Atrial Fibrillation Treatment:
Usually, if you have been diagnosed with the condition, you will be prescribed medication, mainly to lower the risk of stroke. Cardioversion may also be offered to return the heart to its normal rate. This can be done by a physician, although you may also be referred to a cardiologist, who specializes in conditions of the heart.
Your specialist will develop a treatment plan with you. Physicians will consider issues such as your overall health, your age, you symptoms, the type of atrial fibrillation you have, and any underlying conditions. Based on that, appropriate treatment will be found.
Meanwhile, your specialist will also try to determine the cause of your condition. It is possible that the underlying cause is very easy to treat. However, if there is no discernible cause, you are likely to be offered medication to avoid a stroke, medication to control your heart beat, cardioversion, the fitting of a pacemaker, or catheter ablation. Usually, medication will be tried first, and the pacemaker is the last port of call.
In terms of medication, there are different options available. Mainly, the aim will be to restore normal heart rhythm. Sometimes, this means taking a combination of different medication. Common medications used to restore the regular rhythm and their side effects include:
- Beta blockers such as sotalol. Side effects include cold feet and hands, tiredness, impotence, nightmares, and low blood pressure.
- Flecainide. Side effects include heart rhythm disorders, vomiting, and nausea.
- Amiodarone. Side effects include eye deposits, changes to thyroid or liver function, lung problems, and sensitivity to sunlight.
- Verapamil. Side effects include heart failure, ankle swelling, low blood pressure, and constipation.
Depending on the type of atrial fibrillation you have, you may also need medication to lower the chance of having a stroke. If you have experienced heart valve problems, blood clots or a stroke, hypertension, heart failure, heart disease, or diabetes, it is likely that you will also be provided with this type of medication. You are likely to be prescribed an anticoagulant such as edoxaban, rivaroxaban, dabigatran, or apixaban.
A common type of medication is warfarin. This is a type of anticoagulant, stopping the blood from clotting. Warfarin does have the side effe t of increasing the chance of bleeding. This is why it is very important to be monitored closely by a physician if you’re taking this type of medication. Additionally, a lot of medications interact with this one, so you must discuss anything else you take, including supplements or alcohol, with your physician. Indeed, even grapefruit juice and cranberry juice can negatively interact with warfarin.
Medication will always be the first port of call. Making lifestyle changes is also important. Should none of these solutions work, then more invasive procedures such as fitting a pacemaker may be recommended.