Get Educated About Atrial Fibrillation
Between 2-6 million U.S. residents suffer from atrial fibrillation. This condition is common among people who are above 65 years old. Atrial fibrillation is also known as AFib or AF.
AFib is at times temporary, and in some cases it is permanent. In severe cases, the condition could progress into a stroke or a heart attack. However, if patients receive the right medical intervention, they can live normal and active lives. Some patients with AFib experience no early warning signs.
On the other hand, some patients suffer symptoms that one should watch out for. It is advisable to seek medical attention during the early stages instead of waiting for the condition to progress to a life-threatening state. For patients suffering from AF, this can serve as an informative guide to learn more about the condition and review their options.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a form of heart arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. This irregular heartbeat disrupts the flow of your blood. The disruption could lead to blood clots and in serious cases, a stroke. When a person has AFib, the upper chambers of their heart, also known as atria, are affected. This, in turn, affects the flow of blood to the lower chambers of their heart, also known as ventricles. As a result, blood flow throughout the body is affected. The main symptoms associated with this condition include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
There are different types of atrial fibrillation and the symptoms may recur or dissipate completely depending on the condition. The common types of AFib are:
- Paroxysmal AFib
- Persistent AFib
- Long-standing persistent AFib
- Permanent or chronic AFib
- Valvular AFib
- Nonvalvular AFib
- Acute Onset AFib
- Postoperative AFib
There are many different treatments which may be chosen to handle atrial fibrillation. The type and severity of the condition will determine the treatment. Some of the common options are:
- Medication - Doctors prescribe medications for the prevention or treatment of blood clots which often cause a stroke. Drugs are also given to control the patient's heart rhythm and rate. Some of the common medications given for AFib include rate controllers, rhythm controllers, and blood thinners.
- Nonsurgical Procedures - The main nonsurgical procedures are electrical cardioversion and radiofrequency ablation. Electrical cardioversion is like defibrillation whereby the patient gets an electrical shock on their chest using patches or paddles. The shock is meant to reset one's normal heart rhythm. Your doctor will prescribe an ablation if medications and electrical cardioversion are not responding. Before performing an ablation, the physician will conduct electrical mapping using a catheter to determine the cause of extra electrical activity in the patient's heart. The mapping helps the physician identify the areas of the patient's heart that are experiencing bad electrical signals which are disrupting the heart rhythm.
- Surgical Procedures - The main surgical procedures are pacemaker and open-heart maze treatment. A pacemaker refers to an electric device that is implanted in a patient's body with wires connecting to the heart to control their heartbeat. They sense when the heartbeat is slow or fast and send impulses to help the heart normalize its rhythm. In maze heart treatment, the surgeon makes cuts in the atria and then stitches the cuts to form scar tissue. The scars disrupt electrical impulses that cause AFib thus restoring a patient's normal heartbeat.
Atrial Fibrillation Induced Strokes
A stroke is experienced when blood flow to the brain is either significantly reduced or blocked. This suffocates the brain cells and can even lead to death. Strokes are mainly caused by blood clots. AFib disrupts the normal flow of blood to the heart. If the heart is unable to pump blood effectively, then the blood stagnates around the heart to form a clot. One in six stroke cases is brought about by AFib. Experts have determined that AFib patients are 5 times more vulnerable to strokes than patients without AFib. Strokes related to AFib are almost twice as disabling and twice as fatal as strokes that are not related to AFib.
Reducing the patient's risk of a stroke is one of the primary goals of AFib treatment. Physicians will normally prescribe antiplatelets or anticoagulants, which are blood thinners that prevent the formation of blood clots. There are older blood thinners where the patient has to undergo regular blood tests and newer blood thinners where blood tests are unnecessary. A physician will recommend one of the two depending on the severity of the patient's condition.
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