What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart rhythm disturbance that causes your heart to beat in an abnormal pattern. If you have AFib, you are familiar with the often-frightening feeling of a disorganized and racing pulse rate that seems to cause your heart to pump chaotically.
AFib is a common arrhythmia that falls into the grouping known as Supraventricular tachycardias. Supraventricular means that the abnormal electrical impulse happens above the ventricles, and tachycardia means that the speed of the heart rate caused by the disorganized signals is greater than 100 beats per minute.
AFib is currently the most clinically significant type of heart arrhythmia with the highest global prevalence. Recent estimates place the annual cost of medical care for people with AFib in the US at between $16 to $26 billion.
According to data gathered by the American Heart Association as of 2010, 33.5 million men and 12.6 million women worldwide suffer from some form of AFib.
People who suffer from AFib have a higher incidence of mortality. The death rate connected with AFib is higher for women than for men.
If you are living with AFib, it’s crucial for you to understand the causes, types, adverse signs and symptoms, treatment options, and prognosis for the condition. Knowing this information will help you make wise medical decisions and informed lifestyle choices to help ensure the best possible quality of life.
Is AFib Considered a Type of Heart Disease?
AFib, like other heart arrhythmias, is a type of heart disease. AFib is serious because it interferes with the heart’s ability to function at a healthy level.
The primary cause for concern with AFib is due to its connection with stroke because of the increased likelihood of blood clot formation due to the inadequate emptying of the heart chambers.
AFib also has the potential to lead to another problematic heart condition called congestive heart failure, which reduces the heart muscle’s pumping capacity. Other heart rhythm issues can arise because of the presence of AFib.
Causes of AF
AFib is the result of the two upper chambers of the heart, called and left and right atria, receiving random electrical stimuli from many areas in addition to the sinus (SA) node, which is its naturally designed pacemaker.
AFib originates from structural defects in the heart muscle such as incorrectly formed heart valves and other defects present from birth. Sick sinus syndrome is another physical flaw that produces an interruption in the proper functioning of the heart’s internal pacemaker.
Although medical science has not entirely determined the reasons behind the development of AFib, research has uncovered conditions linked to AFib that include:
- Cardiomyopathy – a weakening of the heart muscle due to a congenital disability or drug use
- Certain types of lung disease that lead to low oxygen content in the blood
- Coronary artery disease – a buildup of fatty substances called plaque in the heart’ s arteries
- Excessive alcohol intake
- High blood pressure
- History of heart attack
- History of heart surgery
- Hormonal disorders
- Hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid
- Inflammation of the atria
- Left ventricular hypertrophy – a thickening of the inside wall of the left ventricle
- Myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle
- Metabolic imbalances
- Overuse of stimulants such as caffeine, medications, or tobacco
- Physical stress from illness or surgery
- Pericarditis – an inflammation of the membrane that covers the outside of the heart
- Pulmonary embolism – a blood clot located in the lungs
- Rheumatic heart disease – heart valve damage sustained from rheumatic fever
- Sleep apnea
- Viral infections
Conditions such as advanced age, family history of AFib, obesity, or chronic ailments like diabetes or kidney disease can lead to an increased risk of developing AFib. Certain types of AFib also carry a higher likelihood of developing heart failure or experiencing a stroke.
Triggers For AFib
If you have AFib, specific factors increase the likelihood of having an episode.
Fatigue is a significant contributor to AFib. Excessive tiredness makes your heart work harder to maintain your body’s normal physiologic function and is more prone to slip into a bout of AFib.
Some individuals have gone into AFib because of exposure to high water temperatures during a hot shower or when relaxing in a hot tub. Conversely, exposure to cold such as rapidly drinking a glass of ice water or eating a frozen treat can produce the same result.
Psychological stressors including work-related or personal life anxieties are also known to trigger AFib.
Next page: the different types of AFib explained, what happens when your heart goes into AFib and the symptoms of AFib.