What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition characterized by an irregular and rapid heartbeat that hampers blood supply to the body. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers (atria) and the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart lack coordination, causing a rapid and irregular heart rhythm. People with atrial fibrillation may experience palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue or lack of energy. Atrial fibrillation can be intermittent (occasional) or chronic. Atrial fibrillation is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health consequences.
Risks for Atrial Fibrillation
Some of the risk factors for atrial fibrillation include the following:
- Aging: Overage 60 although it may occur at any age
- Affects more whites than blacks
- Affects more men than women
- Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Chronic lung disease
- Pulmonary embolism: a blood clot in the lungs
- Nerve conditions
- Excessive alcohol, caffeine or tobacco intake
- Heart disease caused by high cholesterol
Diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation
A cardiologist should evaluate all heart conditions for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your cardiologist will review your medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Diagnostic studies may include routine blood tests, electrocardiogram (measures the electrical activity of the heart), chest X-ray, echocardiogram (ultrasound images) and Holter monitor (an ambulatory device that measures the electrical activity of the heart).
Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation
Treatment options may include medications, specific medical procedures and surgery.
Your doctor may recommend medications such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, antiarrhythmic medication, and blood thinners to help control heart rate and rhythm and to avoid clot formation which can cause damage to organs.
Cardioversion, a procedure to reset the heart rhythm may be recommended for acute AF or if this is your first episode of atrial fibrillation and the symptoms are significant. Cardioversion can be achieved by electrical energy or special medications.
Surgery may be necessary for patients with chronic AF who do not respond to medication or procedures and in people with other co-morbid conditions requiring heart surgery.