By 2030, an estimated 12.1 million people in the US could have atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib is the most common form of treated heart arrhythmia.
What does that mean, exactly? Keep reading to find out. In this guide, we’ll review everything you need to know about atrial fibrillation.
Reading this guide can help you catch potential signs of AFib. Then, you can seek the help you need before it’s too late.
Don’t get your heart all in a flutter. Keep reading to learn more about atrial fibrillation today.
What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?
First, let’s answer the question that’s likely on your mind: what is atrial fibrillation (AFib), exactly?
An arrhythmia occurs when your heart beats irregularly, too quickly, or too slowly. With patients who have AFib, the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly. Blood can’t flow as well as it should from the upper to lower chambers of the heart as a result.
The upper chambers of the heart are the atria. The lower chambers of the heart are the ventricles.
AFib can occur in brief episodes. In some cases, however, it’s a permanent condition. When left untreated, atrial fibrillation can become deadly.
The interruption of normal blood flow could put AFib patients at risk of stroke and blood clots.
Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms
Some patients don’t experience symptoms once they develop atrial fibrillation (AFib). Symptoms can also come and go based on the severity of your condition. Common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
The symptoms you might experience can vary based on the type of atrial fibrillation you develop.
For example, paroxysmal Afib resolves on its own. You won’t need medical intervention. Taking medication for AFib could help you avoid future episodes and complications, though.
Some patients experience symptoms for a few minutes. Others experience symptoms that last for a few hours. If you have chronic AFib, your symptoms could last a few days.
Make sure to discuss your symptoms with a doctor.
Doctors can’t always determine what causes AFib. However, some conditions can damage your heart. The damage might lead to atrial fibrillation.
Potential conditions that could cause AFib include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Heart valve disease
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Congenital heart defects
- Thyroid disease
- Heart surgery
- An overactive thyroid gland
Certain medications and binge drinking might lead to AFib as well.
The prevalence of this condition can increase with age. It’s the most common arrhythmia in patients above the age of 65 years. For patients older than 80 years of age, the corresponding rate is about 10%.
About 70% of the patients with atrial fibrillation are between the ages of 65 and 85.
Your doctor can complete a series of tests to determine how your heart is functioning.
For example, they might start with a physical exam to check your blood pressure, lungs, and pulse. They could use an electrocardiogram (EKG) as well. An EKG will record your heart’s electrical impulses.
Other tests can involve a:
- Stress test
- Chest X-ray
- Event monitor
- Holter monitor
- Transesophageal echocardiogram
They might schedule a blood test to check for a metabolic condition as well.
Scheduling regular checkups with your doctor can help you avoid complications like stroke and blood clots. Heart failure is a serious complication as well.
You could throw a stroke if a blood clot forms in the brain. Strokes are sometimes fatal.
Otherwise, AFib can wear down your heart muscles. Your ventricles will have to work harder to ensure proper blood flow. This strain could lead to heart failure.
Atrial Fibrillation Treatments
There are a few different treatments available for atrial fibrillation (AFib).
However, you might not require treatment if you don’t experience symptoms. Remember, atrial fibrillation might stop on its own, too.
For example, your doctor might prescribe anticoagulant medication to treat your condition. Medication might normalize your heart rate. It could promote better overall heart function, too.
Some medications might help you avoid blood clots as well.
There are also natural treatment options, including supplements. Make sure to speak with your doctor if you’re taking medications, though. Some supplements can interfere with the medications you’re taking.
Otherwise, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In severe cases, your doctor might recommend surgery. Atrial fibrillation surgery is ideal for patients with chronic or severe AFib. Surgery can help target your heart muscle to help it efficiently pump blood.
Surgery could prevent heart damage in the future as well.
Your doctor might suggest electrical cardioversion. This procedure uses a brief electrical shock to reset heart contractions.
Otherwise, they might use catheter ablation to deliver radio waves to the heart. Radio waves can destroy abnormal tissue.
Other types of surgery include maze surgery and atrioventricular (AV) node ablation. With AV node ablation, your doctor will insert a pacemaker to ensure your heart maintains its rhythm.
There are a few ways you can reduce your risk of developing atrial fibrillation as you grow older. For example, you can:
- Avoid drinking (or only drink small amounts on occasion)
- Avoid smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regular
- Maintain a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables
- Avoid saturated and trans fat
When adjusting your diet, try to focus on eating protein. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids that could benefit your heart health.
Otherwise, avoid grapefruit, gluten, and vitamin K-rich foods. These foods might interfere with any AFib medications you’re taking.
Make sure to speak with a doctor. They can help treat any underlying health conditions you’ve developed.
Here are a few more tips for preventing heart conditions.
Understanding Atrial Fibrillation (AFib): Getting the Heart Help You Need
To recap, what is atrial fibrillation (AFib)? It’s the most common type of heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. AFib could disrupt your body’s blood flow.
If you think you’re at risk of AFib or experience the symptoms mentioned above, make sure to visit a doctor right away.
Did your doctor prescribe anticoagulant medication for your AFib? You can review our heart medications today to find what you need.