How does atrial fibrillation occur? 3 Types
Atrial fibrillation (AF, AFib) is an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by an irregular and fast heartbeat. The upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat chaotically. This can cause pooling and clotting of blood in the atria, instead of it emptying into the lower chamber (ventricles). AF can lead to stroke, heart failure, blood clots, and heart-related complications.
- Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: AF attacks that last for less than 24 hours
- Persistent atrial fibrillation: AF attacks that last for more than seven days and require treatment
- Long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation: AF that has continued for more than a year
The most common causes leading to atrial fibrillation include:
- Heart valve disease
- Heart muscle disease
- Heart disease due to high blood pressure
- Heart defects at birth
- Heart failure
- Inflammation of the outer lining of the heart (pericardium)
- Previous heart surgery
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Thyroid disorders
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Chronic lung disorder
- Snoring during sleep
- Medications such as theophylline, digitalis, and adenosine
- Age over 60 years
What are the signs of AFib?
Frequently, persons with AFib have no symptoms. When Symptoms do occur, the signs of AFib include:
How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?
The tests commonly used in evaluating a patient with atrial fibrillation are:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Laboratory tests such as complete blood cell count (CBC), blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine kinase (CK), b-type natriuretic peptide, d-dimer level, and digoxin level
- Computed tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Holter monitoring
- Electrophysiology studies
- Exercise stress test
Can a person die from atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a serious condition that, if untreated, doubles the risks of heart-related deaths and stroke. The Framingham Heart Study reported that AFib increases the risk of death by 1.5-fold in men and 1.9-fold in women. So, it is important to control atrial fibrillation.
How is atrial fibrillation treated?
The four major goals of atrial fibrillation are
- Regaining a normal heart rhythm,
- Controlling heart rate,
- Preventing blood clots, and
- Mitigating the risk of stroke.
The various treatment options include drug therapy, surgery, and lifestyle changes.
Medications commonly used to treat atrial fibrillation are:
- Antiarrhythmic drugs: Medications such as procainamide and amiodarone help to treat irregular heartbeats.
- Rate control medications: Medications such as digoxin, metoprolol, and verapamil control the heart rate.
- Anticoagulant medications: Medications such as warfarin prevent the formation of clots.
When drug therapy fails, procedures to treat atrial fibrillation include:
- Electrical cardioversion: Restoring normal heart rhythm by using electrical shock with the patient under anesthesia.
- Pulmonary vein ablation: Applying radiofrequency energy or freezing to excitable electrical tissue around the connections of the pulmonary vein near the atrium.
- Ablation of the AV node: A catheter is directed to the heart through the groin. A small area of tissue around the junction connecting the upper (atria) and lower (ventricles) chambers of the heart are destroyed with radiofrequency energy.
- Patients with a slow heart rate may have a pacemaker installed with a pulse generator and wires that transmit electrical impulses to the heart.
- Left atrial appendage closure: A small, ear-shaped sac present in the muscle wall of the atrium that is closed to prevent stroke.
- Maze procedure: This procedure involves a series of cuts made in the upper chambers of the heart to block any abnormal electrical impulse.
- Excision of the left atrial appendage: Surgical removal of the left atrial appendage.
Lifestyle changes for AF include:
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Atrial Flutter vs. Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation (AFib) are two types of a heart problem called atrial tachycardia. Both of these conditions involve the heart's electrical activity, but they are not the same disease. Both diseases are serious and need medical treatment.
Common symptoms of these diseases are similar and include:
- Blurry vision
- Feeling like you may faint
Serious symptoms of both conditions are similar and include:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Atrial flutter and AFib are heart conditions that require medical diagnosis (ECG) and treatment by a doctor or other medical health-care professional.
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