Atrial Fibrillation: Take Your Fluttering Heartbeat Seriously
When we think of heart conditions, we often associate them with older people. Although aging does increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib), and it’s found more often in those over 60, it can affect people of all ages, including children.
This serious condition, which affects 2 million Americans, increases the risk of health complications, including heart attack and stroke.
What is AFib and its causes?
AFib makes the heart beat rapidly and irregularly — commonly felt like a fluttering of the heart.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “During atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly — out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart.”
Atrial fibrillation, also known as arrhythmia, though a serious condition, is not deadly in and of itself. Rather, the reason this condition is serious is that it increases the risk of heart failure or can be caused by a serious, underlying health problem.
There are several causes associated with AFib. Sometimes, it’s the result of an underlying health problem, such as one of several heart-related diseases, previous heart surgery, sleep apnea, lung disease, infection, or an overactive thyroid.
Other causes include caffeine, heavy alcohol use, street drugs, and certain medications. It can also be genetic.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common symptom of AFib is a fluttering heartbeat or palpitations. But other symptoms sometimes also accompany the condition, such as:
• Thumping in the chest
• Shortness of breath
• Feeling faint or confused
• Chest pain or pressure
In the event of chest pain or pressure, treat it as a medical emergency as it could indicate a heart attack.
Diagnosis of AFib is painless and relatively simple. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and an electrocardiogram. A patient-activated cardiac event recorder might also be used to help with the diagnosis.
Types of AFib and Treatment
There are four types of AFib, although one form of AFib can progress into another.
Paroxysmal AFib is intermittent. It can last for merely a few seconds or for up to a week. Symptoms can range from none to severe. Either way, it goes away on its own within a week or less.
Persistent AFib doesn’t go away on its own. Instead, it lasts until it’s treated, either with medication or electric shock. Physicians will treat the source of the irregular heartbeat as well.
Longstanding, persistent AFib doesn’t respond to the above typical treatments. Therefore, several forms of minimally invasive catheter ablation are considered. For this procedure, you’ll be given something to relax you and a local anesthetic to numb the groin or neck area where the catheter will be inserted to complete the procedure.
Finally, permanent AFib results when longstanding, persistent AFib is unresponsive to treatment. When treatment has been ineffective, your doctor might decide it’s time to discontinue the treatment. Unfortunately, this form of AFib is associated with increased risk of a heart attack and can also impact the quality of your life.
Regardless of the form of AFib, take the condition seriously. If you experience symptoms, seek medical attention without delay. BW