It has an unusual name, but atrial fibrillation is a very common heart condition. In fact, it is the most common type of heart arrhythmia affecting millions of Americans every year. Heart arrhythmias are irregular heart rhythms. In atrial fibrillation, the heart beats rapidly or erratically. It is not usually a life-threatening condition. However, it can increase the risk of developing blood clots and stroke (along with other heart conditions), which can be serious and even fatal.
Atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib) occurs when the upper chambers of the heart contract too quickly or inconsistently, causing an irregular heartbeat. Over time, this can result in weakening of the heart and the potential for heart failure. It can also cause problems with blood flow from the upper chamber to the lower chamber of the heart. When this occurs, blood can pool in the upper chambers, increasing the risk for blood clots in the heart and the potential for clots to travel to other areas of the body.
The risk factors for atrial fibrillation include being older; being overweight or obese; having high blood pressure or other heart conditions; a family history of AFib; heavy drinking; and other chronic conditions, such as sleep apnea, lung disease, diabetes and thyroid disease.
Atrial fibrillation is diagnosed through tests to evaluate heart activity. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medication, cardioversion (low-energy shock therapy), or surgery to control the heart rhythm and prevent clotting.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
While some patients are asymptomatic, many patients experience symptoms that come and go or that can occur regularly. Episodes can also be triggered by stress or anxiety, exertion, illness, consuming caffeine or alcohol, smoking, and some medications.
Common symptoms include:
- Fast and/or irregular heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Chest discomfort or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty exercising
- Dizziness/feeling faint
Atrial Fibrillation Prevention
A heart-healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation, along with other cardiovascular diseases. This means:
- Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke.
- Reducing or avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
- Eating a balanced diet.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Exercising regularly.
- Getting adequate sleep.
- Managing stress.
- Controlling other conditions (like high blood pressure) that increase your risk of AFib.
Although a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation will require lifelong management, patients with AFib can live normal, healthy lives when the condition is properly managed.
The team at Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists consists of North Louisiana’s leading experts in cardiovascular care. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at (318) 798-9400.