Louisiana Heart & Vascular Institute Vein Care Centers

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Millions are affected by this condition globally, making it crucial to understand its causes, symptoms, risks, and the available treatments.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

AFib occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart, the atria, beat irregularly and out of sync with the two lower chambers, the ventricles. This results in a rapid and irregular heartbeat, which can lead to a range of complications.

Causes of AFib

  • Age: The likelihood of developing AFib increases with age.
  • Heart conditions: Other heart conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, previous heart surgeries, or congenital heart defects can increase the risk.
  • Chronic conditions: Conditions such as thyroid problems, diabetes, asthma, and other chronic diseases can contribute to the onset of AFib.
  • Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption: Binge drinking or excessive caffeine intake can trigger an episode.
  • Viral infections: Some believe a previous viral infection might contribute to AFib.

Symptoms of AFib

  • Palpitations or a rapid, fluttering heartbeat
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Chest pain or discomfort

Note: Some people with AFib may have no symptoms.

Risks Associated with AFib

  • Stroke: AFib can cause blood to pool in the atria, forming clots that might travel to the brain.
  • Heart Failure: The heart might not pump blood effectively, leading to heart failure.
  • Other Heart-related Complications: Such as chronic fatigue or chronic kidney disease.

Treatment Options

  • Medications: Blood thinners to reduce stroke risk, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and antiarrhythmic drugs to control heart rate and rhythm.
  • Electrical Cardioversion: A brief electric shock to reset the heart’s rhythm.
  • Catheter Ablation: A procedure where areas of the heart causing the irregular rhythm are scarred.
  • Maze Surgery: A surgical procedure where small cuts are made in the atria to disrupt the electrical signals causing AFib.
  • Pacemakers: Devices implanted beneath the skin to regulate the heart’s rhythm.

Outlook for Patients with AFib

The prognosis for AFib varies based on its cause and how well it’s managed. With appropriate treatments and lifestyle changes, many individuals with AFib can lead normal, active lives. Early detection and consistent monitoring play pivotal roles in managing and mitigating the risks associated with this condition.

Atrial fibrillation is a complex heart condition that requires comprehensive understanding and management. Patients experiencing potential symptoms should seek medical advice promptly. With the right approach, individuals diagnosed with AFib can manage the condition effectively and reduce associated risks.

Further Reading:

Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16765-atrial-fibrillation-afib

American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation/what-is-atrial-fibrillation-afib-or-af