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Atrial Fibrillation: All You Need to Know

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Atrial fibrillation, popular as Afib is the most commonly treated heart arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, irregularly, or too fast. Normal heart rate is somewhere between 60 to 100 beats per minute at rest. However, in the case of atrial fib it either exceeds or drops down to abnormally low levels. It can significantly disrupt one’s routine and may lower productivity levels. In the US, more than 454,000 hospitalizations happen with the primary diagnosis of Afib or Atrial Fibrillation. To overcome this deadly condition, various Research Organizations conduct Clinical Trials to help people suffering from this debilitating condition. 

This blog will focus on types of Atrial Fibrillation, its symptoms, causes, and potential treatment options available for it. 

What happens in atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, as discussed above is an irregular heart rhythm. The normal cycle of electrical impulses in the heart is disturbed. This results in a fast, chaotic heart rhythm and poor flow of blood from the atria to the lower chambers (ventricles). 

There are 3 types of atrial fibrillation:

  • Paroxysmal afib. It lasts less than a week and stops on its own without treatment. 
  • Persistent afib. It lasts for more than a week and needs treatment. 
  • Long-standing persistent afib. It lasts for more than a year and is difficult to treat. 

Also Read: What is Sinus Arrhythmia? Is It Life-Threatening?

What are the symptoms to look out for?

The symptoms of Afib vary from person to person. Some people do not show any symptoms, whereas others do show symptoms. This mainly depends on how fast the ventricles are beating. If the ventricles are beating at a regular or slightly fast pace, the symptoms will not be noticeable. However, if the ventricles are beating faster than the symptoms will be present. 

A few of the symptoms of afib are:

  • Fatigue
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • A feeling of butterflies in the chest

Risk factors for atrial fibrillation

The risk factors for atrial fibrillation are the following:

  • Advancing age
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney failure
  • Smoking
  • Enlargement of the heart chamber on the left side

Ways to reduce chances of developing atrial fibrillation

Having a family history of Afib or any other medical condition makes it hard to prevent the disease. However, there are a few healthy ways that can assist in keeping such conditions at bay. These include:

  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These foods are eggs, fish, lean meat, kidney beans, lentils, etc that are good for heart health.
  • Exercise aerobically as part of your routine. Aim for 150 minutes or more each week. Find out your age-appropriate target heart rate and keep an eye on it while exercising. Before beginning any workout program, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.
  • Give up using tobacco products and smoking. Going it alone might be challenging. You can attain this objective and improve the health of your heart with the appropriate tools and assistance.
  • Get your vaccine shots regularly. People who get flu vaccines early are at a lower risk of developing heart-related diseases.
  • Release stress. Stress is considered to be one of the leading causes of all heart-related diseases. It is important to keep your mind and body at peace by practising mindfulness, journaling, and speaking your heart out to someone you are comfortable with. 

How is atrial fibrillation related to stroke?

Blood clots are the main cause of stroke. Patients with Atrial Fibrillation or AFib are more likely to get a stroke because their blood may not be effectively pushed out of their hearts, which could lead to blood pooling and clotting. A stroke might then occur as a result of this clot travelling to the brain and obstructing blood flow to a portion of the brain.

How does atrial fibrillation impact physical activity?

People with atrial fibrillation (AFib) may benefit from exercise if they do it properly and under a doctor’s supervision.

Regular exercise is believed to reduce the incidence of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, all of which are frequent side effects of Atrial Fibrillation or AFib. Exercise can also enhance the quality of life and help control AFib symptoms like exhaustion and shortness of breath.

It is important to remember that those with AFib should refrain from physically demanding activities that alter their heart rate and speak with their doctor before beginning a new workout regimen. They might need to practice caution, monitor their heart rate when exercising, and stay away from activities that aggravate their Atrial Fibrillation or AFib symptoms. All in all, patients with AFib can benefit from exercise, but it must be done safely.

How to stop atrial fibrillation or afib episode?

Some of the actions that can help while having an Atrial Fibrillation episode are listed below:

  • Deep breathing. This is an instant hack to relieve anxiety and related issues that adversely impact heart health. It is a simple yet very useful technique, breathing in through your nose and exhaling slowly by mouth.
  • Vagal manoeuvres. These actions tend to quickly lower the heart rate to more than 100 beats per minute. These manoeuvres work by engaging with the body’s automatic reflexes. These include gagging, squatting, coughing hard, and tensing the stomach muscles.
  • Dipping face in cold water. Dunking the face in cold water stimulates the vagus nerve and as a result, the body responds by lowering the heart rate.
  • Yoga. Yoga is one of the best techniques to relax one’s mind and body. It helps release stress and reduce anxiety, which resultantly affects the heart and heart rate in a positive manner.
  • Biofeedback. It is a technique that helps an individual learn to control some of the body’s functions like heart rate. The individual is connected to electrical sensors that aid in receiving information about their body. 

Diagnosis of atrial fibrillation

Diagnosis of atrial fibrillation is mainly based on physical examination and tests.  The doctor will ask for the symptoms and family history and then request some tests to confirm the diagnosis. The physical exam includes the following: 

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Thyroid gland to check for thyroid disorder
  • Legs and feet for swelling in case of heart failure
  • Listening to lungs to detect heart failure

Some important tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). It detects the electrical activity of the heart and allows the physician to see if the heart is beating normally.
  • ECG. It uses ultrasound technology to check the contraction of muscles and blood flow to the heart.
  • Blood tests. These show the imbalances in the blood that may cause atrial fibrillation or afib. 

Outlook

Atrial fibrillation is a cardiac condition that is treatable, yet it can be very disturbing for the ones who are affected by it. It is important to keep a check on the symptoms so that the disease can be diagnosed and treated in time, to avoid complications. Other options include opting for an Atrial Fibrillation Clinical Trials that aims to find a potential treatment option for it.


Helen Baumeister, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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