Important things to know about atrial fibrillation

Important things to know about atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is also known as AF or AFib. It is a chronic condition that causes heartbeats to become irregular. According to the CDC, approximately 454,000 hospitalizations with the primary diagnosis of AFib occur annually in the US. It is estimated that there will be nearly 12.1 million cases of AFib in the US by 2030. Here are few things to know about atrial fibrillation.

Common causes
Atrial fibrillation occurs due to a glitch in the heartbeats. The signals in the upper heart chambers become chaotic, causing irregular heartbeats. This generally happens when there is damage or abnormalities in the structure of the heart. Here are some of the common causes of atrial fibrillation.

  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Metabolic imbalance
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Lung diseases
  • Heart surgery
  • Prolonged exposure to stimulants (caffeine, medications, alcohol, or tobacco)
  • Viral infections
  • Severe stress due to surgery or other health issues
  • Sleep apnea

Risk factors
The possibility of being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation increases based on certain factors. Here are some of the common risk factors of AF.

  • Age
  • Pre-existing heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Pre-existing chronic conditions
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Family history of AFib

Common symptoms
In some cases, atrial fibrillation rarely shows any symptoms. Most people are unaware that they have this condition until they undergo a physical examination that monitors their heart rate. However, in most cases, people with AFib may experience the following signs and symptoms.

  • Irregular heart palpitations
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Low stamina
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain and pressure in the chest
  • Excessive sweating
  • Periods of confusion

Recommended treatments
Generally, the type of treatment depends on how long a person had atrial fibrillation. The treatment procedure also depends on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying reason for AFib. The following are common treatments recommended by doctors.

  • Cardioversion
    This procedure is used to reset the heart to its regular rhythm. There are two methods of doing this: electrical cardioversion and cardioversion with medications. In electrical cardioversion, a short burst of electric shock is administered through paddles or patches placed on the chest. In the second method, antiarrhythmic medications are prescribed to reset the heartbeat.
  • Heart rate control medications
    In some instances, doctors prescribe medications to control the rate of heartbeats. Calcium channel blockers and beta blockers are often prescribed to restore regular heart rate.
  • Catheter ablation
    This is a surgical procedure. In this, thin tubes are inserted through the groin to the heart. Radiofrequency energy is transmitted through the tube to destroy heart tissues, which are causing irregular rhythms.
  • Maze procedure
    Using this procedure, doctors create a pattern of scar tissues in the heart. This normalizes the irregular heartbeats.
  • Atrioventricular node ablation
    This procedure involves the insertion of a catheter into the heart. Radiofrequency energy is transmitted between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. This is followed by placing a pacemaker in the lower chambers. In some cases, blood-thinning medications will be needed to be taken.
  • Anticoagulant medications
    These medications are prescribed to lower blood clots’ risk, resulting from the slow blood flow due to irregular heart beats.
  • Left atrial appendage closure
    This is a surgical procedure used to lower the risk of blood clot formation. It involves the insertion of a catheter and a left atrial appendage closure device. A small appendage in the left atrium is closed off with this procedure.

Alternate remedies
There are no natural or home remedies for AFib. However, doctors recommend lifestyle changes to control hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Regular exercises, a balanced diet, healthy weight maintenance, no smoking, and stress management can help keep AFib under control.

Dietary recommendations
Diet plays a vital role in the management of atrial fibrillation symptoms. Certain foods can easily trigger AFib. Caffeine, alcohol, red meat, processed foods, sugary foods, and baked goods are some of the foods that must be avoided. Certain foods, specifically those included in a Mediterranean diet, are beneficial for AFib. Foods to eat include fish rich in omega-3, colorful berries, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil.

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