Atrial fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

    Atrial fibrillation, called Afib or AF, is an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia originating in the heart's upper chambers (atria). In individuals with atrial fibrillation, the regular cycle of electrical impulses within the heart is disrupted. This disturbance results in a rapid and erratic heart rhythm, impairing the efficient movement of blood from the atria to the lower chambers (ventricles).

    There are three primary types of atrial fibrillation:

    1. Paroxysmal Afib: This type typically lasts for less than a week and often resolves spontaneously without needing treatment.

    2. Persistent Afib: Lasting for more than one week, this form of Afib requires medical intervention for management.

    3. Long-standing persistent Afib: This type persists for more than a year and may pose challenges in treatment.

    Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can increase the risk of stroke and other severe medical complications. Recognizing the symptoms and consulting with your healthcare provider to assess your risk factors is crucial.

The effect of atrial fibrillation on the heart

    The human heart comprises four chambers: the upper chambers, known as the atria, and the lower chambers, known as the ventricles.

    With each heartbeat, blood is pumped from the atria to the ventricles and circulated throughout the body.

    The heartbeat originates at the top of the heart and travels downward, guided by electrical signals that regulate the heart's rhythm and coordinate blood flow between the chambers.

    In atrial fibrillation (A-fib), these electrical signals become disrupted, leading to erratic quivering or twitching of the atria—a condition known as fibrillation.

    During A-fib, the heart may fail to pump all the blood from the atria to the ventricles, disrupting the usual rhythm of blood flow.

    While some individuals with an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia may not experience symptoms, early recognition and treatment of A-fib can significantly reduce the risk of complications.

    ### Causes of Atrial Fibrillation

    Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is primarily caused by changes in the heart's electrical signals. While it can occur at any age, it is more prevalent among older individuals. Various risk factors contribute to the development of A-fib, including:

    1. Hypertension: Persistent high blood pressure can strain the heart over time.

    2. Pulmonary embolism: Blood clots in the arteries supplying blood to the lungs can lead to A-fib.

    3. heart disease: Underlying heart conditions such as heart valve disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, or prior heart attacks increase the risk of A-fib.

    4. Alcohol consumption: Regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol poses the highest risk, but even moderate consumption can trigger A-fib in some individuals. Additionally, certain toxic substances like methamphetamine can induce A-fib.

    5. Family history: Individuals with relatives with A-fib are at a higher risk of developing the condition.

    6. Sleep apnoea: Severe sleep apnoea can elevate the risk of A-fib.

    7. Other chronic conditions: Conditions such as thyroid disorders, asthma, diabetes, and obesity can also contribute to the risk of developing A-fib.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

    You might be curious about the sensation of atrial fibrillation (Afib). While some individuals with Afib may not experience any symptoms, it largely depends on the rate at which their ventricles are beating. You may not perceive any sensations if they are beating within a normal or slightly elevated range. However, if your ventricles are beating faster, you are likely to experience symptoms, including:

    1. Extreme fatigue.

    2. Irregular heartbeat.

    3. Heart palpitations.

    4. Sensations akin to butterflies or a fish flopping in your chest.

    5. Dizziness or light-headedness.

    6. Fainting episodes (syncope).

    7. Shortness of breath (dyspnoea).

    8. Chest pain (angina).

    If you encounter these symptoms, it's essential to keep track of when they occur and promptly share this information with your healthcare provider.

Complications due to atrial fibrillation

    1. Blood clots:

    When the heart does not beat regularly, blood may accumulate in the atria. This stagnant blood can lead to the formation of blood clots. A portion of a clot, known as an embolus, may break away and travel through the bloodstream to various parts of the body, causing blockages. For instance, an embolus can impede blood flow to vital organs such as the kidneys, intestines, spleen, brain, or lungs. The consequences of a blood clot can be fatal.

    2. Stroke:

    A stroke occurs when a blood clot obstructs an artery in the brain, resulting in reduced blood flow to a specific area of the brain. The symptoms of a stroke can vary depending on the location of the affected part of the brain. They may include weakness on one side of the body, visual disturbances, and difficulties with speech and movement.

    3. Heart failure

    Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) can contribute to heart failure, particularly when the heart rate is elevated. Irregular heart rates lead to fluctuations in blood volume moving between the heart's upper and lower chambers with each heartbeat. The heart muscle may become exhausted from the rapid and irregular beating.

    Consequently, the heart may fail to adequately pump blood throughout the body, resulting in a buildup of blood in the lungs and other areas. A-fib can also exacerbate the symptoms of any pre-existing heart failure.

When to see a doctor

    If you experience symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AFib), such as irregular heartbeat, palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest pain, it's essential to consult your doctor promptly. Additionally, seek medical attention if you have a known history of AFib and notice any changes in your symptoms or if you experience fainting spells. Early diagnosis and management of AFib can significantly reduce the risk of complications such as blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and cognitive impairment.

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