One day you’re feeling great. The next, suddenly, your heart feels like it skipped a beat. Or maybe, your heart feels like it’s banging around in the chest wall. Then, you start to feel light-headed, nauseous, and weak. What’s going on? Most likely, you’re experiencing atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to strokes, blood clots, heart failure, and other heat conditions. If you have AFib, you’re not alone; at least 2.7 million Americans live with this condition.
Why does AFib occur? AFib occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart are experiencing chaotic electrical signals, making them flutter or quiver. A person’s heart rate in AFib is around 100 to 175 beats a minute while a normal heart rate range is 60 to 100 bpm.
Following are possible causes of Afib: acute infection especially viral, aging, structural changes to the heart including valvular conditions, coronary artery disease, overactive thyroid gland, lung disease, obstructive sleep apnea, acute physical stress and pain (such as following surgery).
There are some people who experience AFib with no heart abnormalities; this type of AFib is called lone atrial fibrillation. The cause for this type of condition isn’t fully clear.
On its own, atrial fibrillation can increase the risk of a stroke, and it is a leading risk factor for stroke. It accounts for 15 percent of all strokes and 30 percent of strokes for people 80 years old and older. It is most common with people older than 60. If AFib is left untreated, a person has a two to five percent chance of having a stroke that year, and their chances of developing any other heart-related issues can double.
How can AFib cause a stroke? The irregular heartbeats cause blood to pool in a specific susceptible area of the heart called the left atrial appendage. The stagnant, pooling blood can form a clot which can “break off and migrate to other parts of the body. If clots travel to the brain, a person may experience a stroke. Sometimes, AFib occurs without physical symptoms, so some people don’t even realize they are living with the condition.
In addition to the symptoms listed above, a person experiencing AFib can also feel week, tired, dizzy, have shortness of breath and chest pain. These symptoms can range from being occasional to persistent.
Around 80 percent of strokes caused by AFib can be prevented with proper medical management. The treatment you will receive will be dependent on your symptoms, your history, your current condition, and how long you’ve been experiencing the AFib.
A doctor will look for ways to control the heart rate, prevent blood clots, and reduce the patient’s risk for strokes. Some doctors will prescribe anti-arrhythmic medications or heart rate control medication. Sometimes, medications are not enough.
Physicians can reset the heart rate by doing a cardioversion, which is done either through medications or an electrical shock through the chest by paddles/patches. Patients are often given a blood-thinner medication before this procedure to reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke. For surgical treatment options, a doctor may perform a catheter ablation, a surgical maze procedure, or atrioventricular node ablation.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, make an appointment with a doctor today. Dr. Kordonowy of Internal Medicine, Lipids & Wellness can examine you and order an electrocardiogram to determine if your systems are indeed caused by AFib or something else. To book an appointment, click here, or call 239-362-3005, ext. 200. Dr. Kordonowy offers direct patient care membership and concierge services including the unique Inpatient Advocate Service™