Heart problems are some of the most serious health conditions you can develop. From heart disease, a deadly killer that steals lives every year, to irregular heartbeats that can disrupt your daily life, your heart is the centerpiece of your overall health. That’s what makes conditions like atrial fibrillation so dangerous. If you’re living with atrial fibrillation, you might not think your heart’s irregular beats are serious. But more than 175,000 deaths happened from this condition in 2018 alone. Search online to discover just how atrial fibrillation can affect your health and well-being.
It’s estimated that over 12 million people will have atrial fibrillation by 2030. With effects that can lead to serious conditions and health complications, atrial fibrillation needs to be noticed as soon as it begins. In order to do this, you’ll need to know what the symptoms of atrial fibrillation look like. If you search online, you can discover what you might experience if you have atrial fibrillation.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation, which is also called AFib, is essentially an irregular heartbeat. It’s an arrhythmia that causes the heart to quiver, skip beats, or act otherwise abnormal.
When AFib occurs, it can feel like your heart is going crazy. People who live with AFib have described it as flip-flops, skipped beats, or banging against the chest. This is because afib doesn’t follow a traditional heartbeat pattern.
Instead, atrial fibrillation occurs when the upper chambers of the heart begin to beat irregularly, changing the way blood moves through the heart’s ventricles. This can result in issues like blood clots, which can then lead to even bigger problems like heart attacks and strokes.
Risk Factors and Causes
There are several different ways AFib can begin. Typically, the condition is caused by damage to the heart’s electrical system, which can happen if you’re living with another condition that affects your heart.
But the cause isn’t always so clear. In one out of every 10 AFib cases, a less common issue causes arrhythmia.
Most commonly, AFib is caused by the following triggers, conditions, or factors:
- Your age.
- Genes or family history.
- Heart disease.
- Sick sinus syndrome.
- Heart attack.
- High blood pressure.
- Lung diseases like COPD or emphysema.
- Blood clots in the lungs.
- Metabolic syndrome.
- Sleep apnea.
- A virus that causes infections.
All of these factors can put you at a higher risk of developing AFib. Additionally, certain behaviors like smoking or moderate to heavy alcohol consumption can also increase your risk. If you’re unsure of how significant your risk for AFib could be, make sure to see your doctor.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Because AFib affects your heart’s beat and rhythm, it can be difficult to detect when it begins. While some people will feel dramatic, physical symptoms like their heart beating incredibly hard or a fluttering feeling, others will experience absolutely no symptoms. It simply depends on how your heart’s abnormal rhythm happens.
When AFib occurs, it’s faulty electrical signals that are making the heart beat differently. However, this can affect everything from blood flow to pumping power, which may result in symptoms that seem to have little to do with your heart. This means you might experience symptoms that cover a wide range, like:
- Heart palpitations, or what feels like a flutter in your chest.
- Pain or pressure in your chest.
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling faint or lightheaded.
- Unusually tired or fatigued.
- A general feeling of weakness.
While racing, pounding heartbeats are often a symptom of AFib, you might not experience this. Your symptoms can change depending on factors like your age – older individuals, for example, don’t typically experience any symptoms – and the underlying cause of your AFib.
Regardless, if you think you might be experiencing symptoms of AFib or you think you may have a health issue of any kind, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor.
How Atrial Fibrillation Is Treated
If you do have AFib, it’s critical that you seek treatment for the condition. You cannot leave AFib alone and ignore it. The condition can be dangerous and ultimately life-threatening if untreated.
For example, blood clots that form can break off, enter the bloodstream, and lodge in a brain artery, which can cause a stroke. About 15 to 20 percent of all strokes happen because of AFib. Additionally, when AFib is untreated, it can double your risk for heart-related death and increase your risk of having a stroke by five times.
So, once your doctor has officially diagnosed you with atrial fibrillation, you’ll need to begin treatment. There are several ways AFib is treated. You may need just one treatment, a combination of treatments, or a few treatments used one after the other in order to see success.
The goal of treating atrial fibrillation is to reset the heart’s rhythm and prevent blood clots. Your doctor’s recommended treatments will depend on a variety of different factors, including any other health conditions you might have. Your doctor can try or suggest any of the following treatments.
Resetting the Heart’s Rhythm
This treatment aims to bring your heart back to sinus rhythm, or the normal rhythm. It involves a procedure called cardioversion, which can either be done with electrical shocks delivered to your heart or medications called antiarrhythmics. Both of these options are typically performed in a hospital where doctors can closely monitor your heart rate.
The antiarrhythmic medications used for cardioversion can also be prescribed as a treatment to prevent future AFib episodes. These medications can help you maintain a normal heart rhythm once the underlying cause of your AFib has been dealt with or your heart has been restored to a normal beating pattern.
Medications to Control Heart Rate
If your heart beats too quickly, your doctor may prescribe medications that can control your heart rate. These can include medications like beta blocks, which slow the heart rate down, or calcium channel blockers, which also work to lower your heart rate.
Some individuals may need surgical treatment for AFib. These procedures, which typically include catheter ablation and AV node ablation, actually destroy certain tissue in the heart that’s causing erratic electrical signals. These processes are typically recommended when other treatment options haven’t worked or if you cannot tolerate heart rate medications.
In addition to treating the irregular heart rhythm of AFib, doctors may also suggest treatments that prevent future complications. Anticoagulant medications, which are blood thinners, can help prevent clots and strokes. These medications make it easier for you to avoid dangerous outcomes that AFib patients often experience.