What is atrial fibrillation?


Know the basics

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is one type of arrhythmia, as known as abnormal heart rhythm by a disorder in the heart’s electrical system.

The heart’s electrical system produces signals to set your heart rhythm, which is the speed and pattern of your heartbeat.

If you have atrial fibrillation, the heart muscles look as if they are wiggling instead of contracting.

How common is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is more common among elders and people who have other heart diseases and obesity.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

You may have atrial fibrillation but never feel it.

Possible symptoms of atrial fibrillation often include the feeling of irregular or too fast heartbeats.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Feel tired or cannot exercise.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you feel that you have irregular heartbeats or any symptoms of atrial fibrillation, you should go to see the doctor as soon as possible.

Moreover, if you have chest pain or signs of stroke, you must seek for emergency immediately.

Know the causes

What causes atrial fibrillation?

Our hearts have four chambers, which are atria (the upper twos) and ventricles (the lower twos). All the chambers should contract in a certain pattern to move the blood properly. Your heart’s electrical system involves functionalized cells telling the heart when to beat. If these cells malfunction and send extra electrical signals, the atria will beat unevenly.

A fibrillating atrium has small, irregular, fast contractions. Not all the blood inside the atria is pumped into ventricles, so blood pools. Pooled blood may clot, and clots can flow into the bloodstream, causing strokes.

Ventricles work harder to get blood to the body, and heart failure may result.

Among many causes of the scenario above, aging is the most common. Others may be:

  • Heart problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and mitral stenosis.
  • Pulmonary diseases
  • Chronic illness, such as diabetes, obesity, etc.
  • Overactive thyroid

Atrial fibrillation may get worsen by:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Overweight or keeping high fat diets
  • Keeping high blood pressure untreated
  • Keeping sedentary lifestyle
  • Ignoring the symptoms or any abnormal of the body
  • Not following the doctor’s instructions

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for atrial fibrillation?

You are at higher risk of getting atrial fibrillation if the followings exist:

  • Older age
  • Having heart diseases
  • High blood pressure
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Obesity
  • A family history of atrial fibrillation.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?

To diagnose atrial fibrillation, your doctor looks for a certain pattern on an electrocardiogram (ECG), which shows the heart’s electrical activity.

The doctor may check movements of the atria with an echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound to examine the heart and capture the moving images on a video. If your atrial fibrillation comes and goes, your doctor may order a portable recorder of your heart rhythm (Holter monitor).

How is atrial fibrillation treated?

Your doctor will focus on the cause to treat your atrial fibrillation. For example, if you have thyroid disease, your treatment is to treat this illness. If the cause is too much caffeine or excess alcohol, your doctor will consult you to get rid of them.

First, your doctor will prescribe you medicines to control heart rhythm and the fibrillation. Those medicines are antiarrhythmic, which can slow down the heart rate and make it regular. Sometimes atrial fibrillation stops on its own.

Your doctor may give you blood thinners (anticoagulants) such as warfarin (e.g., Coumadin®) for blood clots or to prevent them. However, the side effects are easy bruising and bleeding, so your doctor will monitor those drugs closely and regularly.

Sometimes, you may need cardioversion to shock back the abnormal rhythm to normal. During this procedure, a heart specialist (cardiologist) will give your heart a brief electric shock in attempting to stop briefly all electrical activity, hoping that the normal heart rhythm will take over.

Chest pain, low blood pressure, congestive heart disease, or other serious symptoms may require emergency cardioversion. The heart specialist may place dual-chamber pacemaker.

You may also need a heart catheter or surgery (maze procedure) to destroy the part of the heart causing fibrillation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage atrial fibrillation?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with atrial fibrillation:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet (less fat and cholesterol).
  • Keep to an ideal body weight.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Exercise as much as you can if you are taking the proper drugs and have no symptoms.
  • Take your medicines as prescribed. Have blood drug levels checked.
  • Call your doctor if you have drug side effects or if you have new or worsening symptoms (dizziness, chest pain or tightness, fainting, shortness of breath).
  • Avoid activities that cause bruising if you are taking a blood thinner.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol or caffeine.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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