Atrial Fibrillation: Take Your Fluttering Heartbeat Seriously

When we think of heart conditions, we often associate these thoughts with older people. Although aging does increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib), and it’s found more often in those over 60, it can affect people of all ages including children. This serious condition affects two million Americans, increasing their risk of health complications including heart attack and stroke.

AFib makes the heart beat rapidly and irregularly, commonly felt like a fluttering of the heart. According to the Mayo Clinic, “During atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly, out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart.”

Atrial fibrillation, also known as arrhythmia, although a serious condition, is not deadly in and of itself. Rather, the reason this condition is serious is that it increases the risk of heart failure or can be caused by an underlying health problem.

There are several causes associated with AFib. Sometimes, it’s the result of an underlying health problem such as one of several heart-related diseases, previous heart surgery, sleep apnea, lung disease, infection, or an overactive thyroid. Other causes include caffeine use, heavy alcohol use, street drug use, and the use of certain medications. It can also be genetic.

The most common symptom of AFib is a fluttering heartbeat or palpitations. But other symptoms sometimes also accompany the condition, such as:

  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • thumping in the chest
  • anxiety
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling faint or confused
  • sweating
  • chest pain or pressure

In the event of chest pain or pressure, treat it as a medical emergency since it could indicate a heart attack.

Diagnosis of AFib is painless and relatively simple. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and an electrocardiogram. A patient-activated cardiac event recorder may also be used to help with the diagnosis.

There are four types of AFib. Although one form of AFib can progress into another.

Paroxysmal AFib is intermittent. It can last for merely a few seconds or for up to a week. Symptoms can range from none too severe. Either way, it goes away on its own within a week or less. Persistent AFib doesn’t go away on its own, instead, it lasts until it’s treated either with medication or electric shock. For those at high risk for stroke or another known cause of AFib, physicians will treat that source of the irregular heartbeat as well. Longstanding persistent AFib doesn’t respond to typical treatments. Therefore, several forms of minimally invasive catheter ablation are considered. Finally, permanent AFib results when longstanding persistent AFib is unresponsive to treatment. When treatment has been ineffective, your doctor might decide it’s time to discontinue the treatment.

Regardless of the form of AFib, take the condition seriously. If you experience symptoms, do seek medical attention without delay.

Kimberly Blaker
About Kimberly Blaker

Kimberly Blaker is the mother of two and a grandmother. She remembers the challenge of trying to maintain romance in her marriage while raising kids – weekend getaways did wonders for her marriage and family life.

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