What is Atrial Fibrillation? Everything You Need to Know

By 2030, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 12.1 million Americans will be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or ‘AFib’. This common heart condition can be quite serious, but with the right treatment, you can still live a long, active life.

What is AFib, what causes it, and what kinds of treatment are available? We’re here with a simple guide to help you understand your medical condition.

Explaining Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a type of heart disorder characterized by an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia. With AFib, the rhythm in the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) is irregular. This disrupts the flow of blood to the two lower chambers of the heart (ventricles).

The irregular rhythm could come and go, or it could be a chronic condition that gets worse over time.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

The disruption of blood flow can cause a number of different symptoms. You may experience one or several.

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations or pounding
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

If you experience any of these symptoms, see a cardiologist right away to determine if you do have a problem.

AFib and the Risk of Stroke

One of the many dangers of AFib is an increased risk of stroke. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, atrial fibrillation is present in one out of five people who had a stroke.

The rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with AFib causes blood to pool in the heart. This can lead to a clot, which can then travel to the brain, cutting off the blood supply.

Treatment Options

Thankfully, there are effective treatments for atrial fibrillation. The severity of your condition, along with other underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, will determine which path your doctor chooses. There are three main treatment options.

Medications – There are a number of medications that can help control your arrhythmia. Other drugs are designed to help prevent blood clots that can lead to stroke, including antiplatelets (aspirin) or anticoagulants. The drug Warfarin is one of the most well-known anticoagulants.

Non-surgical procedures – For more serious AFib, your cardiologist might choose a non-surgical procedure called electrical cardioversion. During this procedure, an electrical shock is transmitted to the heart using either paddles or patches placed on the chest. This causes the heart to “reset” and return to a normal rhythm.

Other non-surgical procedures include radiofrequency ablation or catheter ablation.

Surgical procedures – For more advanced cases, you might need to have a pacemaker implanted in order to control the heartbeat. Another more complex option is an open-heart Maze. This procedure leaves scar tissue on the upper part of your heart, which disrupts the electrical impulses that cause AFib.

Learn more about atrial fibrillation, how it can affect your health, and your treatment options.

Get Back Into Rhythm

Atrial fibrillation can be serious, but with treatment, there is no reason you can’t continue to enjoy your life. Medical advances make it possible to control and even fix arrhythmia to relieve your symptoms, reduce your risk of stroke, and keep you healthy.

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