Heart and Vascular

Atrial Fibrillation: Everything You Need to Know

Nov 8 2018
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Signs, symptoms and treatment for an irregular heartbeat

Commonly known as AFib or arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation is a quivery, fluttering heartbeat. Doctors diagnose it by monitoring the electric activity in your heart. It’s important to know if you’re living with atrial fibrillation. It can lead to other problems, such as stroke, heart failure or chronic fatigue. There are many treatments available to address the symptoms.

What happens during AFib?

A normal heart beats by contracting and relaxing in a regular rhythm. Your body sends electric signals to have your heart pump blood throughout your blood vessels. But with AFib, the heart’s two small upper chambers, known as the atria, just don’t beat the way a normal heart does. Maybe they beat too fast or not at a normal rhythm. When the heart doesn’t beat like it should, there may be issues with your body getting enough oxygen and the nutrients it needs.

The concern is when your blood has trouble moving through your body. It’s possible the blood could clot. That clot may break off and enter your bloodstream. That’s how strokes occurThat’s why it’s so important to diagnose and receive treatment for this potentially life-threatening condition.

Signs and symptoms of AFib

It’s easy to mistake the signs and symptoms of AFib with other health situations. Knowing what to look for makes it easier to explain what’s going on to your doctor. You may notice your heart is racing or fluttering in your chest. These are known as heart palpitations, and you may just think you’ve exerted yourself. But these may happen when you’re completely relaxed.

You may find that you’re easily fatigued or weak, unable to perform the same activities you once did. You may be dizzy or lightheaded, which makes sense if your blood isn’t pumping through your body like it should. You may have chest pain or pressure, or shortness of breath.

All of these symptoms are serious. You should make an appointment with a doctor immediately. If they persist for more than 24 hours, go to the hospital. Sometimes people with AFib have no symptoms. That’s why general checkups are vital.

Who is prone to AFib?

AFib is more common in those who are over the age of 60. If you have other heart problems, you may be more likely to develop the condition as well. Those with heart disease due to high blood pressure are more likely to have arrhythmia, as are people with heart valve disease. Heart muscle disease, which is also known as cardiomyopathy, also makes it more likely. If you’ve had a heart defect from birth, previous heart failure or past heart surgery, your chances of having AFib are higher.

Those with certain medical conditions are also more prone to develop AFib. If you have long-term lung disease, such as COPD, or an overactive thyroid gland, you may be more likely to have this condition. People with sleep apnea are also more commonly living with AFib. If you take adenosine, digitalis or theophylline as medications, you have a greater risk.

Can Afib be prevented?

Yes and no. Sometimes, AFib is linked to infections or your genetics. There’s not much that can be done about that. But it can also be linked to heavy alcohol, caffeine or drug use. You can easily limit these things for a wide number of health reasons.

What can often be prevented, though, is the potentially fatal results. The American Heart Association lists the treatment options to include medicines that help return your heart to a normal beat or slow your heart rate. Blood thinners can help minimize blood clots, while an electrical cardioversion (also known as an electric shock) can get your heart beating normally again.

If you or a loved one have any symptoms of AFib, see a doctor immediately. Visit Mercy.com to find a heart specialist near you today.


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