Have you ever heard someone complain of chest pains and wondered what was causing it? Atrial fibrillation is a common heart condition that affects millions of people. An estimated 3 to 6 million people have it in the United States alone. It can be hard to understand and even harder to manage, but it doesn’t have to be scary.
Let’s take an in-depth look at atrial fibrillation (AFib) pathophysiology to better understand what it is and its effect on our hearts.
Atrial fibrillation is a type of heart rhythm disorder that causes the heart’s upper chambers (the atria) to beat irregularly and rapidly. The atria are responsible for pumping blood into the lower chambers of your heart, called ventricles. Atrial fibrillation happens when an electrical disturbance occurs within these chambers, and they can’t pump blood effectively through your body, causing an irregular beating pattern. It is often seen on an AFib rhythm strip.
The condition can cause blood to pool in the atria, leading to blood clots that travel to other parts of the body and cause strokes, heart failure, and other cardiovascular complications.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia.
While it is manageable and not life threatening in most cases, it’s still important to take it seriously. Here are some of its signs and symptoms:
Several triggers and risk factors can contribute to atrial fibrillation development, such as:
You can do several things to help prevent or manage AFib. Here are some helpful tips:
Several medications can be used to treat atrial fibrillation. The best medications for your condition will depend on your individual needs and medical history. Some common AFib medications include:
You can also use a pacemaker for AFib. A pacemaker is a small device implanted in the chest or abdomen to help regulate the heart’s rhythm. It uses electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat normally. Pacemakers are typically used to treat AFib in people with symptoms that are not controlled by medications or other nonsurgical treatments.
Working with your doctor to determine the best medication plan for your specific situation is important. Finding the right medication or combination that works best for you may take some time.
The American Heart Association recommends a heart-healthy AFib diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for persistent atrial fibrillation. This diet is also low in sodium and sugar but not necessarily fat free.
This heart-healthy diet is designed to lower the risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol and reducing blood pressure.
If you have atrial fibrillation, ensure your doctor approves your diet before making any major changes.
While these diets cannot reverse atrial fibrillation, they can help minimize your risk of stroke and other heart problems. Follow these tips to make your diet more heart friendly:
Anxiety is an emotional state that is caused by tension, stress, and physical changes. Anxious people often feel stressed, irritable, on edge, or panicky.
So, can atrial fibrillation be caused by anxiety? When it comes to stress and heart disease, there’s a lack of research on whether anxiety can cause atrial fibrillation. However, there’s some evidence that people with AFib are more likely than others to have panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror that occur without warning.
Yes, as it turns out. If you have a family history of atrial fibrillation, then your chances of developing it yourself are higher. There is no one gene or gene mutation, however, that causes AFib. It’s more likely caused by several genes interacting with other lifestyle and environmental factors.
That being said, having a family history of AFib doesn’t mean that you will necessarily develop the condition.
There are treatments for atrial fibrillation, but it can be hard to predict each person’s prognosis. How long you can live with atrial fibrillation generally depends on whether you have any other underlying conditions.
Studies have shown that people with atrial fibrillation have a shortened life expectancy by about two years. This varies for everyone. Some people live with AFib for years without symptoms or complications; others may need medication or surgery.
In some cases, AFib may not cause symptoms and may be discovered during a routine medical exam. If you have been diagnosed with AFib and are experiencing any new or worsening symptoms, you should also seek medical attention.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should go to the hospital immediately:
Atrial fibrillation is a serious condition that can lead to other health problems if left untreated. Although there is no cure for AFib, many medications can help manage your symptoms and prevent them from worsening. If you think you have atrial fibrillation or another heart condition, be sure to get checked out by a doctor immediately.