How Atrial Fibrillation Develops and Progresses
Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heart rhythm disturbances. In the U.S.A. it is responsible for one third of hospitalizations due to an abnormal heartbeat, and half of people aged 80 and older who are hospitalized each year due to an abnormal heartbeat pattern have AFib.
What Causes AFib?
AFib occurs as a result of irritation within the upper chambers of the heart (atria) and pulmonary vein. Sources of irritation include scars, stretching of tissues, and inflammation. These may be the result of a heart attack, infection, or other cardiac problems.
Often an exact cause is not identified.
Who is Most Likely to Develop AFib?
Women are slightly more likely than men to be diagnosed with AFib, but men have a higher incidence of hospitalization.
Only one percent of adults 60 and younger are diagnosed with AFib. That rises to about 10% in people over the age of 80.
Caucasians are more likely to develop AFib than people of other ethnicities.
Are There Different Kinds of AFib?
There are several classifications of AFib.
AFib with RVR (rapid ventricular response) is more serious. It means that your entire heart is beating faster than it should be and so your heart does not have time to empty and fill with blood properly.
This may result in less oxygen being available throughout your entire body. You may feel dizzy, experience chest pain, have shortness of breath, anxiety, or become disoriented. If it continues for an extended period of time, your heart may be damaged.
AFib is also classified by how long a person experiences it. If you have your first episode of AF and it lasts for less than one week, it is classified as paroxysmal AFib. Most of the time, this type of AFib corrects itself within 24 hours. In one out of five people it may persist and become persistent or permanent.
AFib that lasts longer than one week but less than one month is called recent-onset AFib. Persistent AFib is continuous and lasts for more than one week. Chronic AF lasts longer than one month.
If AFib lasts for more than six months it is usually harder to treat. It may go away, only to return. If heart disease is present cardioversion – a procedure used to shock the abnormal heart rhythm back into a normal one – is less likely to be successful.
Longstanding, persistent AFib lasts for more than one year. Permanent AFib is longstanding persistent AFib that is no longer being treated and does not respond to treatment.
Secondary AFib results from a separate health issue, such as a pulmonary embolism or heart attack. Once the underlying cause of the primary health issue is resolved, the AFib usually disappears.
How Can AFib Progress If Untreated?
Other types of tachycardias –fast heartbeats – may develop as a result of AFib. These can lead to heart damage. Congestive heart failure may occur. Large scale, long-term research studies have proven that AFib is associated with higher rates of heart failure and death.