Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that occurs due to an irregular or abnormal beating of the heart. It is a serious medical condition that can result in fatality if not treated.
An abnormal heartbeat takes place when the pace of the atria and that of the ventricles are not in harmony. The atria are the two upper chambers of the heart while the ventricles are the two lower chambers.
Having an atrial fibrillation increases the chances of a patient getting other heart problems associated with the disease such as heart failure. You can also experience a stroke or formation of a blood clot within the blood vessels, which can cause severe problems.
Health Conditions Associated with Atrial Fibrillation
The chaotic electrical signals produced by someone having atrial fibrillation are caused by a variety of factors. An abnormal heart rate of an individual who has this condition often exceeds the average of 60 to 100 beats per minute as observed in healthy people. The accelerated heart rate can range anywhere from 100 to 175 beats per minute. Some of these causes include underlying health conditions, while others are more direct in their heart rate effects.
The presence of abnormalities in the heart or an irregular heartbeat are the most common causes of atrial fibrillation. Other causes include both direct and indirect methods of contraction based on congenital heart conditions or other diseases associated with the heart. Environmental factors can also cause the onset of atrial fibrillation, and doesn't necessarily have to manifest due to a preexisting condition or related disease.
Sick Sinus Syndrome (SSS)
Sick sinus syndrome or sinus dysfunction can be an implicated cause in an atrial fibrillation diagnosis. This condition occurs when the heart's natural pacemaker begins to function improperly, causing an accelerated or irregular heartbeat as a result. Other factors include high blood pressure (hypertension) and coronary artery disease. If you have previously had a heart surgery, it can also make you more susceptible to develop atrial fibrillation.
There are other causes of atrial fibrillation that are unrelated to heart complications, but they are still able to expose you to the potential development of atrial fibrillation. These risk factors include an overactive thyroid or other metabolic irregularities. Lesser known causes include viral infections and even stress as a result of surgery or conditions like pneumonia.
Sleep apnea is also cited as a potential cause of atrial fibrillation in individuals. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that requires specialized attention and surveillance in order to diagnose.
More direct causes of an irregular heartbeat include the exposure to various stimulants. These can be tobacco, caffeine, and certain medications. Pulmonary complications can also cause atrial fibrillation. Lung disease is the most recognized complication that can result in atrial fibrillation.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
People who experience atrial fibrillation generally have or show the following symptoms:
- abnormal heartbeats (most common)
- feeling dizzy
- pain in the thoracic or chest cavity
- feeling weak
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
Sometimes, the symptoms may not show in people who have atrial fibrillation. The medical problem may be diagnosed only after a pulse test is done. However, it is important that you visit a doctor as soon as possible in order to get early treatment. The reason is that this medical condition puts you at 5 times the risk of having a heart attack.
Can atrial fibrillation be treated?
If you're diagnosed with this condition, treatment is normally done with certain goals to it. Examples of such aims include:
- reducing your chances of a stroke
- bringing your heart rate back to normal
- preventing the formation of blood clots
Atrial fibrillation is treatable and there are several ways to deal with it. They include the following:
- The use of blood thinners to help keep the blood from clotting.
- Taking medications such amiodarone, which slows the heart rate.
- The use of beta blockers, which help in lowering your heart beat, thereby reducing your blood pressure.
- Surgery can also be done in some cases to install heart pacemakers.
- Electric shock can be used to bring the heart beat back to normal levels in another treatment method called electrical cardioversion.
How to Manage Atrial Fibrillation
Since atrial fibrillation is a condition that can result in other medical complications, there are ways in which you are expected to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These methods are used in order to reduce the chances of having a worsening condition. Below is a guideline on what you can do to deal with atrial fibrillation in the best possible way:
- avoid smoking
- abstain from consuming excessive alcohol
- avoid a diet that has high cholesterol levels
- have simple regular exercises
- make sure that your blood pressure levels are not elevated
- control your stress levels
Generally, the aim here is to prevent any risks of heart disease from developing.
In preventing the chances of developing atrial fibrillation, there are a few steps that you can follow at home. These steps are designed to work in conjunction with the prescribed treatment regimens and should be discussed in detail with your doctor to determine the risks and complications as well as to promote healthy heart functions. These tips will help reduce your chances of developing a heart disease.
As previously mentioned, proper dieting is crucial in the prevention of this heart condition. Discuss any issues you may have with your diet with a dietitian to develop a plan that will promote a healthy heart function. A healthy diet that is tailored for you can be coupled with exercise routines or physical activities that you enjoy. Exercising is not only good for your overall health, it also increases the functionality of your heart.
By consuming a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercises, maintaining your weight will become easier. While weight maintenance isn't easy for everyone, the combination of diet and workout will greatly help you overcome weight problems such as obesity. If you smoke, you should stop immediately.
The truth is, when you are more active and healthy, the urge to smoke will be reduced. Over time, through a consistent regimen, smoking will no longer interest you, and in fact, the very act of smoking will disgust you. It's getting to this point that individuals have the most trouble with.
It may be difficult for some people, especially those who have an explosive mood disorder. Controlling your anger and stress are important if you have an irregular heartbeat. Meditation and many other methods are available to you to help control these emotions.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications and pain relievers have been linked to heartbeat irregularities. Discuss with your doctor any type of medication that you are considering taking to make sure that atrial fibrillation is not exacerbated or created due to the drug's effects.
The Bottom Line
Atrial fibrillation is a medical condition that can be easily treated, especially when detected early. Due to its association with other medical conditions such as heart failure and hypertension, it should be handled with the utmost care.
Patients should have regular medical checkups so as to ensure that their body systems still function properly. If all preventive measures are done, then it will be easier to manage atrial fibrillation.