Understanding Atrial Fibrillation

Posted on September 21, 2018 by kerri
September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. Atrial fibrillation may be a familiar enough term—you probably know that it has to do with the heart, for example—but you may not know exactly what it means.
Atrial fibrillation is commonly shortened to AFib. It is a change in heart rhythm in which the upper and lower chambers of the heart beat out of sync—it can lead to stroke, heart failure, or other heart-related problems. [1]
heartbeat tracing with a green heart beside on black background
What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation symptoms can either be episodic or persistent—persistent symptoms of AFib require treatment, even though it is not life-threatening, it can still pose serious problems and for that reason requires emergency treatment. [1]
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include [1]:
  • Heart Palpitations—a feeling of rapid heart rate which may feel irregular, as if it is “racing” or “flip-flopping” [1]
    • General weakness
    • Decreased exercise tolerance or ability to exercise
    • Tiredness, fatigue, or confusion
    • Lightheadedness or dizziness
    • Shortness of breath and chest pain
Any cardiac symptoms should be assessed by a doctor. This is usually done via a quick test called an electrocardiogram, in which heart rhythms can be visualized using electrodes attached to various parts of the body to measure the electrical current created by the heart.
Causes of atrial fibrillation
High blood pressure, heart attack (during or following), heart disease (coronary artery disease), congenital heart defects, heart valve problems, heart related problems like sick sinus syndrome, thyroid problems, lung disease, viruses, sleep apnea, and exposure to stimulants (such as stimulant medications such as those for ADHD or weight loss, or in cough and cold medicines, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol) can cause atrial fibrillation.  [1] As well, high stress can contribute to risk of developing AFib and other conditions. [1]
Living a healthy lifestyle can prevent development of cardiac issues, including AFib. These lifestyle factors include maintaining a healthy diet, getting physical activity regularly, avoiding smoking, caffeine and alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and decreasing stress and anger.
Treating AFib
Treating atrial fibrillation will depend on the cause of your AFib. Heart tests (including electrocardiograms, exercise stress tests, and Holter monitors which measure heart rhythms over several days) blood tests, and chest x-ray will be used to determine the cause of your heart rhythm problem. [1]
Heart rhythm may need to be reset using a procedure called cardioversion, which means either applying electricity or medicine to reset the rhythm and rate of the heart. [1] Medicines can be given to control heart rhythm and heart rate, which will prevent risks like blood clot from rapid heart rate. [1]
Surgical procedures can also be used help control heart rhythm including cardiac ablation or the open heart “cardiac maze” procedure, creating a small patch of scar tissue in the heart which interferes with the transmission of electrical activity as scar tissue does not conduct (carry) electricity, thus stopping the improper rhythm. [1]
A cardiologist will determine what is best in each case for treating atrial fibrillation.
Medical ID for atrial fibrillation
If you have been treated for AFib or any conditions that may contribute to atrial fibrillation, it is important to wear an atrial fibrillation medical ID, or whatever is appropriate to your needs such as a heart patient medical necklace. This medical ID will help doctors know in an emergency how to treat you—if you take a blood thinner it is important to wear medical alert jewelry identifying this, such as a coumadin bracelet or warfarin medical ID, as it can affect your treatment in many situations including unrelated injury or illness. We have both custom engraved medical bracelets and necklaces and pre-engraved IDs available to help you stay safe with atrial fibrillation.

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