Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is an abnormal and frequently extremely fast heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can result in blood clots in the heart. A-fib is associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular problems.
It is a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly – out of sync with the heart’s lower chambers (the ventricles). A-fib is often asymptomatic in many people. A-fib, on the other hand, can induce a rapid, hammering heartbeat (palpitations), as well as shortness of breath or weakness.
Atrial fibrillation episodes may be transient or persistent. Although A-fib is rarely fatal, it is a significant medical disorder that requires careful treatment to avoid stroke.
A-Fib treatment options include medication, cardioversion therapy, and catheter treatments to block erroneous cardiac signals.
A person who has atrial fibrillation may also have a condition called atrial flutter. While atrial flutter is a distinct arrhythmia, treatment is very similar to that of atrial fibrillation.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is characterized by an erratic heart rate that can occasionally be quite fast. It can be significantly more than 100 beats per minute in some circumstances. This can result in dizziness, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
You may have had noticeable heart palpitations, in which your heart feels as if it is pounding, fluttering, or beating erratically for a few seconds or, in some cases, a few minutes.
Occasionally, atrial fibrillation produces no symptoms, and the patient is fully ignorant that their heartbeat is abnormal.
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
Although the etiology is unknown, it disproportionately affects specific categories of people, including the elderly and those with long-term (chronic) diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or obesity. Atrial fibrillation is associated with many conditions, including:
- After heart surgery
- Chronic lung disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
- Heart valve disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Viral infection
Complications of Atrial Fibrillation
A serious complication of atrial fibrillation is blood clots, which can lead to stroke.
The irregular heart rhythm or atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool in the heart’s upper chambers (atria) and develop clots. A blood clot in the left upper chamber (left atrium) can travel to the brain and cause a stroke if it breaks free from the heart. As you become older, your chances of having a stroke from A-fib increase.
Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation treatment aims to restore a normal heart rhythm (sinus rhythm), control the heart rate, prevent blood clots, and reduce the risk of stroke.
Atrial fibrillation can be treated in a variety of ways, including lifestyle changes, medication, catheter-based techniques, and surgery. Your doctor will recommend a course of treatment based on your heart rhythm and symptoms.
You may be prescribed drugs to regulate the rate at which your heart beats and bring it back to normal. Additionally, medications are administered to avoid blood clots, a potentially fatal consequence of A-fib. Examples of such drugs include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, digoxin, blood thinners and anti-arrhythmic medication.
Another modality of treatment is cardioversion, which is a procedure that attempts to reset the heart rhythm (sinus rhythm).
If A-fib does not improve with medicine or other treatments, a doctor may consider cardiac ablation. Occasionally, ablation is the initial therapy option for certain patients.
Cardiac ablation employs either heat (radiofrequency energy) or freezing cold (cryoablation) to scar the heart, obstructing aberrant electrical signals and restoring a normal heartbeat. A doctor inserts a flexible tube (catheter) into your heart via a blood vessel, typically in your groin. Multiple catheters may be utilized. Sensors on the catheter’s tip deliver the cold or heat energy.