Atrial fibrillation is the occurrence of an irregular heart rate, usually faster than normal. It is also referred to as Afib or AF. Common symptoms associated with the condition include shortness of breath, tiredness and palpitations. Though the condition is not fatal, people who have atrial fibrillation are likely to suffer from a stroke or a blood clot 5-7 times more than a normal person. Luckily, Afib is treatable with a cardioversion, medication, catheter ablation or surgical procedures.
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
In most cases, the pulmonary veins are the origin of the erratic electrical impulses that cause the condition. However, AF can originate from other parts of the body. The real cause of atrial fibrillation is yet to be known, but it mostly targets some groups of people and commonly occurs due to age. Nonetheless, not all AF patients fall under the listed categories. There are instances where it affects people who are fit such as athletes. If you are diagnosed with the condition, there are ways to manage it once you identify the trigger.
1. Genetic Clues
Around 30% of the atrial fibrillation causes are linked to genetics. Research has discovered the gene that is responsible for the condition. Members of a family with 2 copies of the gene show symptoms of the condition and some suffer sudden death when they are young.
As you grow older, you are more likely to have atrial fibrillation. Despite the fact that men are perceived to get it first, women tend to die prematurely from the condition. Initially, it started occurring when people were in their fifties, but lately it is affecting teens and people in their twenties.
All forms of alcohol are a trigger for atrial fibrillation. For some people, one drink is enough to trigger the condition, but for others, it only occurs in the case of excessive consumption of alcohol. Researchers have found the link between alcohol and vagal tone.
Caffeine is a stimulant that increases your heart rate and rejuvenates your central nervous system. For some people, it is one of the causes of atrial fibrillation.
When the fluid levels in your body change, the heart rate is affected. In the case of dehydration, the heart rate increases which can trigger AF. Alcohol, some types of foods, caffeine and exercise can dehydrate you. It is, therefore, important to drink lots of water especially when it is hot.
6. Physical Stress
Physical stress can cause irregular electric activity to occur in your heart. Physical stress usually indicates that your body is not functioning at 100% due to sleep deprivation, surgery or illness. A balanced diet and ample rest is necessary for people with AF.
7. Strong Emotions
Since emotions contribute to our bodily functions, a strong emotional change might be a trigger for atrial fibrillations. When you experience extreme joy, fright or anxiety, you can increase your heart rate or even feel as though your heart has skipped a beat.
8. Hormonal Changes
Though hormonal changes are normal in women, they are one of the causes of atrial fibrillation. This is more so if a woman is experiencing menstrual problems or is at the premenopausal age.
9. Heart Disease
Existence of a heart disease is a common cause of atrial fibrillation. AF mostly occurs to patients with valve disease, coronary heart disease, history of heart attacks, inflamed heart lining or muscle, recent heart surgery or congestive heart failure.
10. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Patients with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to get atrial fibrillations compared to those without. They also have a greater risk of getting AF compared to those who have cardiovascular diseases.
If you have atrial fibrillation, it is safe to consult your doctor before purchasing over the counter medication. People with irregular heart rates can be affected by nasal spray and some cold medicines. You can always ask for an alternative.
12. Other Medical Conditions
Patients with atherosclerosis, chest pains, diabetes, high blood pressure as well as problems with the thyroid might also be targeted by atrial fibrillation.
Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation
If the causes of atrial fibrillation are recognized, it is not difficult to treat the problem. Here are several treatment options.
1. Treating the Causes
If the atrial fibrillation is caused by coronary artery disease, treatment can include:
- Changing your lifestyle
- Taking cholesterol reduction medication
- Blood pressure medication
- Coronary artery bypass surgery
2. Restoring Normal Heart Rhythm
As soon as a patient is diagnosed with AF, it is important to get the heart back to its normal rhythm. If the rhythm is not restored as soon as possible, it becomes troublesome to restore it in future. When a patient exhibits symptoms of AF, medication to restore the rhythm can be administered or electrical cardiovascular procedure can be performed.
3. Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation and Surgical Procedure
Radiofrequency catheter ablation is done in a catheterization lab and the procedure involves the use of radio waves to destroy heart tissue that is triggering the irregular electrical rhythm causing AF. It also treats the effects of AF and the risk of blood thinners and blood clots. However, it is not very effective and has severe side effects.
Surgical procedures can also be performed to create scars in the atria, hindering irregular electric rhythm to spread and thus treating AF.
4. Rhythm Control
Once the rhythm is restored back to normal, medication is given to maintain it. Drugs like beta-blockers in high doses can maintain a normal rhythm with minimal side effects. However, for most patients, the most effective one are antiarrhythmic drugs like dofetilide, sotalol, amiodarone among others. You should note that they have severe side effects.
5. Rate Control
When the heart rate goes back to normal even after treatment, doctors may prescribe some medicines to keep the heart in that condition and control the rate. Drugs like calcium-channel blockers, beta blockers and digoxin are used to slow down the rate.
For patients who are on and off with AF or have chronic AF, the risk of blood clots should be controlled. This is done by the use of blood thinning medication like warfarin. However, it is important to ensure that the blood is not thinned too much and risks like excessive bleeding are taken care off.