How does atrial fibrillation occur?
Atrial fibrillation (AF) 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
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 AF?
Frequently, persons with AF have no symptoms. Symptoms and signs of AF 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
How is atrial fibrillation treated?
The goals of the treatment of AF 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 heart is destroyed with radiofrequency energy.
- Patients with a slow heart rate may have a pacemaker installed with a pulse generator and wires that transmit electric 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 left atrial appendage.
Lifestyle changes for AF include:
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. It is associated with 1.5 to 1.9-fold higher risk of death. So, it is important to control atrial fibrillation.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?
Atrial Fibrillation (Afib): Management and Treatment
Top Most Common Causes of Atrial Fibrillation Related Articles
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib, AF)Atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib) is an abnormality in the heart rhythm, which involves irregular and often rapid beating of the heart. Symptoms may include heart palpitations, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Atrial fibrillation treatment may include medication or procedures like cardioversion or ablation to normalize the heart rate.
Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms (AFib Warning Signs)
Atrial fibrillation or AFib is a type of hear rhythm abnormality. Early warning signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation include chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness.
Treatment for atrial fibrillation includes medical procedures, surgery, and medication.
Atrial Fibrillation QuizLearn the causes, symptoms, and treatments of the common heart abnormality known as atrial fibrillation (A-fib).
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Treatment DrugsAtrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart rhythm disorder that causes irregular and often rapid heartbeat. The medications to treat AFib include beta-blockers, blood thinners, and heart rhythm drugs. Atrial fibrillation drugs can cause serious side effects like seizures, vision changes, shortness of breath, fainting, other abnormal heart rhythms, excessive bleeding while coughing or vomiting, blood in the stool, and bleeding into the brain.
A-Fib SlideshowAFib symptoms like heart racing, fluttering, and irregular heart beat may be caused by heart disease, obesity, alcohol use, thyroid disease, and other conditions. AFib medications may include blood thinners, drugs to control heart rate or convert the heart to a normal rhythm. AFib surgery is also a treatment possibility.
Atrial Flutter vs. Atrial Fibrillation (What Are the Differences?)
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.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) Symptoms, Treatment, and Life ExpectancyCongestive heart failure (CHF) refers to a condition in which the heart loses the ability to function properly. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, myocarditis, and cardiomyopathies are just a few potential causes of congestive heart failure. Signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure may include fatigue, breathlessness, palpitations, angina, and edema. Physical examination, patient history, blood tests, and imaging tests are used to diagnose congestive heart failure. Treatment of heart failure consists of lifestyle modification and taking medications to decrease fluid in the body and ease the strain on the heart. The prognosis of a patient with congestive heart failure depends on the stage of the heart failure and the overall condition of the individual.
Living with Atrial FibrillationAFib symptoms like heart racing, fluttering, and irregular heart beat may be caused by heart disease, obesity, alcohol use, thyroid disease, and other conditions. AFib medications may include blood thinners, drugs to control heart rate or convert the heart to a normal rhythm. AFib surgery is also a treatment possibility.