What is Atrial Fibrillation? Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
Lavern Davidhizar, DO
If you’re suffering from fatigue, dizziness and weakness, you may have atrial
fibrillation. This is an irregular heartbeat and it increases your risk of heart disease
and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
there are an estimated 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the U.S. who suffer from atrial
fibrillation. Of these people, two percent are under the age of 65, with nine percent
being over 65.
Below, we look at what atrial fibrillation is, as well as the signs, symptoms and
treatments available in the U.S. today.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
it more difficult for it to do its important job of circulating your blood. Some of the
health issues that can lead to atrial fibrillation include:
When atrial fibrillation is caused by a treatable condition, it usually goes away
when that condition is treated. Sometimes, though, the root cause of your atrial
fibrillation cannot be found.
This arrhythmia, sometimes known as AFib or AF, physically manifests as the atria
of your heart, which are the smaller chambers that pump blood into the bigger
ventricles, quiver erratically and quickly. When this happens, the atria don’t get
blood effectively into the ventricles, causing your heartbeat to be irregular and
more rapid than usual.
Your heart usually beats between 60 and 100 times in a minute when you’re
resting. However, if you’re suffering from this condition, your heart can beat faster
than 400 times a minute.
Episodes of this illness can be sporadic and may disappear on their own. However,
if it doesn’t go away, you might need to seek treatment. The condition in itself isn’t
usually life threatening, but it is a serious illness that may need emergency
treatment and could potentially lead to complications. A serious complication
includes blood clots forming within your heart and potentially circulating to your
other organs and sometimes blocking your blood flow.
Signs of Atrial Fibrillation
If you have atrial fibrillation, the most tell-tale sign is that you may feel as though
your heart is fluttering or racing, even when you’re taking things easy. It’s possible to
have atrial fibrillation without ever having any symptoms, and you could be
completely unaware of your condition until it’s identified during a routine check or
physical examination by your doctor.
If you are showing atrial fibrillation symptoms, they often include:
In addition, your AFib symptoms may be:
Occasional. If you suffer from symptoms from time to time, your atrial
fibrillation is known as paroxysmal. If this is the case, your symptoms may
appear and disappear, lasting from a couple of minutes to hours, and then
stopping by themselves.
Persistent. If you have persistent atrial fibrillation, the rhythm of your heart
won’t return to normal by itself and you’ll need treatment to restore it.
Long-standing persistent. This condition lasts longer than a year and is
Permanent. If you have permanent atrial fibrillation, your heart rhythm is unable
to be returned to normal and you’ll need medications to control it.
Complications of Atrial Fibrillation
There are two major complications associated with AF. These are heart failure and
Heart failure. You suffer from heart failure when your heart fails to pump enough
blood around your body to meet its needs. Atrial fibrillation has the potential to
lead to this are your ventricles are beating very rapidly, and as such are unable to
fill up with blood. When this is the case, they might not be able to pump the blood
needed by your lungs and body.
Common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath as well as fatigue
due to a buildup of fluid within your lungs. Additionally, fluid may collect in your
legs, feet, and ankles and can cause you to gain weight.
If you suffer from heart failure, you need to make changes to your lifestyle. You are
often also required to take medicines, undergo procedures, or have surgery where
you may be fitted with a mechanical heart pump or need to undergo a heart
transplant, although this is rare.
Stroke. As your heart’s chambers, or atria, are not pumping blood through to your
ventricles, blood pools in your atria. If this is the case, a blood clot can potentially
form. If this travels to your brain, it can result in a stroke, and blood-thinning
medications are used to treat this.
According to the CDC, AF increases your stroke risk by as many as four or five
times more than a person without the condition.
Risk Factors of Atrial Fibrillation
Your risk of having AF increases as you age, and there’s also an association
between the condition and high blood pressure. Other risk factors include:
Some of these risk factors can be minimized by making changes to your lifestyle. So
if you feel you could be helped by cutting down on your alcohol intake or eating
better, now is the time to make some modifications to your routine.
Atrial Fibrillation Treatment
It’s impossible to determine what your course of treatment will be without a
thorough medical examination that takes both your symptoms and your risk for any
other health issues into consideration. Modern treatments have the aim of making
you feel an improvement, as well as prevent any potential future issues like stroke
and heart failure.
There are three main avenues of treatment, these are:
1. Treatment to slow your heart rate
2. Treatment to control your heart rhythm
3. Treatment to prevent stroke
Treatment to control your heart rhythm. Treatments of controlling the rhythm of
your heart include:
Antiarrhythmic medication. This works by controlling your heart’s rhythm.
Catheter ablation. A minimally invasive procedure that destroys minute areas of
your heart that cause AF.
Electrical cardioversion. This works by using low-voltage electrical shocks to get
your heart back in rhythm.
Maze procedure. This creates scar tissue that effectively blocks an electrical
signals from traveling through your heart.
AV node ablation. Another type of catheter ablation, this relieves your
symptoms while not stopping AF.
Treatment to slow your heart rate. The doctor will give you medicines to slow
down your heart rate if it’s too fast. This avenue of treatment can also relieve your
Treatment to prevent stroke. If your doctor deems you at risk of having a stroke,
he may prescribe anticoagulants for long-term use. Alternatively, if you cannot
take these medications or have a low risk of stroke, he may suggest you take a
daily dose of aspirin or have no preventative treatment whatsoever.
As you can see, there are various ways of treating atrial fibrillation and one of the
best ways to minimize your symptoms is to lead a healthy lifestyle. You can do this
Most cases of AF can be managed or treated. If you’re worried about your health or
the health of someone you know, speak with your doctor for advice.
Contact the Family Medical Clinic in Soldotna at (907) 262-7566 and inquire about our Alaska
exclusive BodySmart program today.