What is Afib?
Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is a common type of arrhythmia, also known as an irregular heartbeat. Your heart has two upper chambers — the atria — and two lower chambers — the ventricles. When your heart is healthy, all four chambers beat in sync. With atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers beat chaotically causing the lower chambers to beat irregularly.
When the atria cause the ventricles of the heart to beat too fast, it’s called rapid ventricular rate or response (RVR). But the ventricular rate does not have to go fast for Afib to be concern. Afib is a common disorder, and does require medical attention.
What are the symptoms of Afib?
Some people with AFib have no symptoms and are only diagnosed during a physical exam. There are several warning signs associated with the condition, including:
- Heart flutters
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of Afib may be constant, or you may experience them in short episodes that can last from a few minutes to several hours. If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor.
What are the dangers of Afib?
When the ventricles of your heart beat too quickly, they can’t fill with blood from the atria, then are unable to supply blood to the rest of your body effectively. While Afib is not fatal, over time it can take a toll on your heart and lead to serious complications including heart failure and stroke.
What are the Treatment Options for Afib?
There are many treatment options available for people with Afib. Treatment will depend on how long someone has had the condition and their symptoms. Possible treatment options include medications, medical procedures, surgical intervention and preventative measures.
Screening for sleep apnea and other medical conditions is necessary for the comprehensive treatment of atrial fibrillation.
Common medications include:
- Anti-arrhythmic drugs: used to maintain a normal heart rhythm.
- Beta Blockers and Calcium channel Blockers: help control heart rate
- Blood thinners: prevent blood clots from forming in the heart, then traveling to different parts of the body, causing harm.
Common procedures include:
- Electrical cardioversion: During electrical cardioversion, the patient is placed under sedation while a mild electric shock is given to the heart to reset the heartbeat. Patients go home the same day.
- Chemical cardioversion: During chemical cardioversion, anti-arrhythmic medication is administered while in the hospital to relax the heart and reset the rhythm. This medication can be delivered via an IV or taken by mouth.
Common surgical interventions include:
- Catheter ablation: A long tube is inserted through a blood vessel in the groin to reach the heart. Once the catheter makes its way to the heart, it is used to burn or freeze areas of the heart that cause the arrhythmia to kill that tissue and disrupt the electrical signals causing the irregular heartbeat. Catheter ablation can cure arrhythmia completely — there is no need for medication in the future.
- Atrioventricular (AV) node ablation: A catheter is inserted through a blood vessel in the groin and is threaded up toward the heart. Sensors on the tip of the caterer give off radiofrequency energy to the heart tissue at the AV node and destroy the electric signal there. Prior to an AV node ablation, a patient must have a pacemaker for the heart to function properly.
- Surgical Maze Procedure: The Maze Procedure is an open-heart surgery that allows the surgeon to create a pattern of scar tissue in the atria of the heart. This scar tissue interferes with the electrical impulses of the heart and prevents irregular rhythm.
In addition to medication and treatment options, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also improve heart health. This includes:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing blood pressure
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake
- Treatment of sleep apnea
Through lifestyle management and medical care, Afib can be managed and the risk of heart failure or stroke can be lessened significantly. If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of Afib, contact your doctor.