Atrial Fibrillation: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, is a common heart condition where the heart beats irregularly. Understanding AFib’s causes, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial for managing and preventing it.

This article covers everything you need to know about atrial fibrillation and shares heart-healthy habits to help prevent it.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?

Atrial fibrillation is a prevalent cardiovascular disease characterized by an irregular and often rapid heartbeat.

This irregularity hampers effective blood flow from the heart’s upper chambers to the lower ones, leading to potentially severe complications like heart failure, blood clots, and cardiac arrest.

In 2019, AFib was mentioned on 183,321 death certificates, and the CDC estimates that by 2030, 12.1 million Americans will have AFib.

Fortunately, advancements in medical research have led to more effective treatments for this condition.

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

AFib varies based on the duration of symptoms and underlying causes. A doctor’s diagnosis will determine the type, which affects treatment strategies. The types of AFib include:

  • Paroxysmal AFib: Lasts between 24 hours and seven days.
  • Persistent AFib: Lasts longer than seven days.
  • Longstanding AFib: Persists for twelve months or more.
  • Permanent AFib: Irregular heartbeat that remains indefinitely.
  • Nonvalvular AFib: Caused by issues other than problems between the heart’s chambers, often related to the heart valve.

Paroxysmal AFib may revert to a normal rhythm without treatment, while other types generally require medical intervention. Permanent AFib is classified as such when treatment cannot restore a normal rhythm.

What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?

AFib can result from various cardiac and non-cardiac conditions, or sometimes the cause is unknown. Cardiac conditions linked to AFib include:

  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Infiltrative cardiac disease
  • Pre-excitation syndrome
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Heart valve disease

Non-cardiac causes can include:

  • Acute infections like sepsis and pneumonia
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Hypothermia
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Pheochromocytoma
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Thyroid disorders, especially hyperthyroidism

AFib can also arise as a complication of cardiac surgeries, with studies estimating 20–55% of such operations resulting in AFib.

Risk Factors for Atrial Fibrillation

Certain factors increase the likelihood of developing AFib, including:

  • Family history of AFib
  • European ancestry
  • Recent cardiac surgery
  • Age (more common in those over 65)
  • Medical history of chronic conditions such as kidney disease, COPD, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart conditions, and sleep apnea
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and poor diet

Notably, lifestyle factors are controllable. Adopting healthier habits can significantly reduce the risk of developing AFib.

Symptoms of AFib

The primary symptom of AFib is an irregular heartbeat, often described as fast, fluttering, or pounding.

However, some individuals may not experience noticeable symptoms, making AFib challenging to diagnose. Other symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Confusion
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain
  • Anxiety

 

Symptoms can vary widely, and untreated AFib can lead to serious complications like stroke and heart failure, underscoring the importance of regular medical check-ups.

 

Complications of Atrial Fibrillation

Heart Failure

Heart failure, a common AFib complication, occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

Symptoms range from mild weakness to severe cases that can be fatal. AFib increases the risk of heart failure by 300%.

Blood Clots

AFib can cause blood clots to form due to disrupted blood flow.

These clots can travel to vital organs, leading to conditions like deep vein thrombosis, heart attack, or stroke.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SAC)

SAC, where the heart stops beating, can be fatal within minutes if untreated.

While the link between AFib and SAC is debated, those with AFib are at higher risk of SAC.

Stroke

Blood clots from AFib can reach the brain, causing strokes.

Symptoms include numbness, difficulty speaking, and severe headaches. Immediate medical care is crucial for suspected strokes.

Cognitive Impairments

AFib can lead to cognitive impairments due to blood clots causing brain damage, resulting in conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosis

If you experience symptoms of AFib, consult a healthcare provider. Diagnosis involves reviewing medical history, symptoms, and lifestyle, along with tests such as blood tests and electrocardiograms.

A cardiologist will develop a tailored treatment plan once AFib is confirmed.

 

Summing Up

Understanding and managing atrial fibrillation involves being aware of its symptoms, causes, and treatment options. By adopting heart-healthy habits and seeking regular medical advice from our doctors at Emergency Hospital Systems, you can reduce the risk and impact of this common heart condition. Call us today at (281) 592-5410 to book an appointment.

Disclaimer - Use At Your Own Risk :- The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as advice for any individual case or situation. Any action you take upon the information on these blogs are strictly at your own risk. We will not be liable for any losses or damages in connection with the use of the information from these blogs.
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