Atrial fibrillation occurs when the atria, or the top part of the heart begins to fibrillate (quiver or shake). This is caused by problems in the heart’s electrical system. This in turn causes an irregular rhythm between the upper and lower part of the heart. The lower part of the heart, that still beats strongly, now beats irregularly because of the atria. Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of arrhythmia. It generally occurs in males 60 years of age or older.
Some of the symptoms you may experience if you have atrial fibrillation include: the feeling that your heart is pounding, chest pain, out of breath, dizziness, weakness, lightheadedness, tiredness, fainting, and the feeling that your heart is unevenly beating.
Not everyone who suffers from atrial fibrillation will have noticeable symptoms to alert them. If you think you may have atrial fibrillation it is important to consult a professional as soon as possible because it can lead to some serious problems if left untreated.
Any health condition that causes strain or damage to your heart can be responsible for causing atrial fibrillation. This can include: heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart valve disease and coronary artery disease. However, there can be other causes of atrial fibrillation, such as: use of stimulants, heart surgery, use of prescription drugs (such as theophylline and albuterol), heavy alcohol use. Other medical conditions such as high thyroid levels, lung disease and pneumonia may also cause atrial fibrillation.
The most common treatments for atrial fibrillation are blood-thinning, rhythm and rate-control medications and a treatment called “cardioversion”. Cardioversion treatment involves using electrical shock in order to steady the rhythm of your heart. This treatment is often successful in the short term, but atrial fibrillation is does generally come back. Rate-control medications are prescribed by health professionals in order to keep the heart from beating too fast. Antiarrhythmics (or rhythm-control drugs) are used to help return the heart to it’s regular rhythm. Blood thinning medicines like antiplatelets (i.e. aspirin) or anticoagulants (i.e. warfarin) are used for those who run the risk of having a stroke. Strokes are one of the serious conditions that were mentioned earlier that leaving your atrial fibrillation undiagnosed can lead to.
There are some pre-emptive measures that you can take in order to try to avoid atrial fibrillation. These include: controlling your cholesterol, not smoking, managing your stress, avoiding the flu, getting regular exercise, abiding by a healthy diet, and staying away from stimulants. These are all ways to improve the health of your heart, which will keep it strong and less likely to fall prey to heart diseases such as atrial fibrillation.
There are two areas of the heart that atrial fibrillation is most common to affect. They are the left atrium and the mitral valve. Atrial fibrillation is known to cause blood clotting (or thromboembolism). This is dangerous as the blood clot can move to your head and cause you to stroke. Atrial fibrillation can also cause problems in your mitral valve. Atrial fibrillation makes the mitral valve expand to the point where it will begin to leak. This can lead to mitral regurgitation.