Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of arrhythmias, which are irregular heart rhythms. Atrial fibrillation causes your heart to beat much faster than normal. Also, your heart’s upper and lower chambers do not work together as they should. When this happens, the lower chambers do not fill completely or pump enough blood to your lungs and body. This can make you feel tired or dizzy, or you may notice heart palpitations or chest pain. Blood also pools in your heart, which increases your risk of forming clots and can leads to strokes or other complications. Atrial fibrillation can also occur without any signs or symptoms. Untreated fibrillation can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications.
Sometimes atrial fibrillation goes away on its own. For some people, atrial fibrillation is an ongoing heart problem that lasts for years. Over time, it may happen more often and last longer. Treatment restores normal heart rhythms, helps control symptoms, and prevents complications. Your doctor may recommend medicines, medical procedures, and lifestyle changes to treat your atrial fibrillation.
Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition until it's discovered during a physical examination. Those who do have atrial fibrillation symptoms may experience signs and symptoms such as:
AF is linked to several forms of cardiovascular disease, but may occur in otherwise normal hearts. Cardiovascular factors known to be associated with the development of AF include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, mitral valve stenosis (e.g., due to rheumatic heart disease or mitral valve prolapse), mitral regurgitation, left atrial enlargement, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), pericarditis, congenital heart disease, and previous heart surgery. Additionally, lung diseases (such as pneumonia, lung cancer, pulmonary embolism, and sarcoidosis) are thought to play a role in certain people. Disorders of breathing during sleep such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are also associated with AF. Obesity is a risk factor for AF. Hyperthyroidism and subclinical hyperthyroidism are associated with AF development. Caffeine consumption does not appear to be associated with AF, but excessive alcohol consumption ("binge drinking" or "holiday heart syndrome") is linked to AF. Sepsis also increases the risk of developing new-onset atrial fibrillation. Long-term endurance exercise (e.g., long-distance bicycling or marathon running) appears to be associated with a modest increase in the risk of atrial fibrillation in middle-aged and elderly people. Tobacco smoking and secondhand tobacco smoke exposure are associated with an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
To prevent atrial fibrillation, it's important to live a heart-healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart disease. A healthy lifestyle may include:
To diagnose atrial fibrillation, your doctor may review your signs and symptoms, review your medical history, and conduct a physical examination. Your doctor may order several tests to diagnose your condition, including:
Your doctor will decide on the best treatment, depending on:
Most people with atrial fibrillation will need to take medicines. Your doctor will decide the best ones.
They may prescribe medicines to restore or maintain a normal heart beat in the short or long term.
Most medicines usually have to be taken for the long term. It’s important to take medicines as prescribed.
Your doctor may also recommend procedures like:
Catheter ablation is a procedure that very carefully destroys the diseased area of your heart and interrupts abnormal electrical circuits.
It's an option if medicine has not been effective or tolerated.
Catheters (thin, soft wires) are guided through 1 of your veins into your heart, where they record electrical activity.
When the source of the abnormality is found, an energy source, such as high-frequency radiowaves that generate heat, is transmitted through 1 of the catheters to destroy the tissue.
The procedure usually takes 2 to 3 hours, so it may be carried out under general anaesthetic, which means you're unconscious during the procedure.
You should make a quick recovery after having catheter ablation and be able to carry out most of your normal activities the next day.
But you should not lift anything heavy for 2 weeks, and driving should be avoided for the first 2 days.
As with other heart conditions the best way to manage your heart health is to make sure you see your doctor regularly and reduce the risks. It’s important to manage the risk factors for heart disease to avoid more heart problems.
You may also need to reduce your caffeine intake.
What are the atrial fibrillation complications?
Sometimes atrial fibrillation can lead to the following complications: