Atrial fibrillation or AFib or arrhythmia is a disease where the heart rhythm becomes irregular. The heart rate becomes rapid, which increases the risk of heart failure, stroke, and other complications of the heart. The upper chambers of the heart known as atria do not beat in sync with the lower two chambers called as ventricles. This causes shortness of breath, heart palpitations, weakness, and numerous other symptoms. Atrial fibrillation may be a temporary or permanent disorder. Here are a few essential things to know about AFib.
Generally, a damage to the heart’s structure leads to atrial fibrillation. In some cases, abnormalities in the heart also cause atrial fibrillation. Also, if there is a family history of AFib, it may be passed down through the genes. A person who has any disease or disorder related to the heart valve may also be at risk of being affected by atrial fibrillation. Other ailments such as viral infections, overactive thyroid glands, and metabolic syndrome are also common causes of this disease. Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as excess consumption of alcohol can also lead to atrial fibrillation. Other common causes include exposure to stimulants, sick sinus syndrome, lung diseases, sleep apnea, and coronary artery disease.
In some cases of atrial fibrillation, there are no apparent symptoms. In such cases, patients are not even aware that they have AFib until it is diagnosed during a physical examination. The most common symptom of this disease is irregular heartbeats that may cause a lot of discomfort to the person. Another common symptom is constantly feeling weak and tired. This can be accompanied by dizziness, lightheadedness, and short confusion spells. A person may experience chest pain and shortness of breath as well as excessive sweating.
The symptoms occur based on the type of atrial fibrillation a person has. There are four types—occasional or paroxysmal, persistent, long-standing persistent, and permanent. In the case of occasional atrial fibrillation, the symptoms are temporary as they come and go and persist for a few minutes to hours. In the case of persistent AFib, irregular heart rhythm persists and requires treatment to restore the natural rhythm. Long-standing is more serious as it lasts for more than 12 months. Permanent AFib is when it is no longer possible to normalize the irregular heart rhythm. A person with permanent atrial fibrillation has to take medicines for life to control their heart rate.
In order to diagnose atrial fibrillation, doctors conduct a physical examination, review the person’s medical history, and examine the signs and symptoms. Several tests are also recommended to diagnose AFib. These tests include an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, Holter monitoring, event recording, and blood test. An ECG is a primary test to diagnose AFib. Holter monitor and event recorder are portable ECG devices for continuous monitoring and recording of the heart’s activity for a prolonged period. An echocardiogram is a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to generate a video image of the heart and check for underlying structural heart diseases. Blood tests are recommended to test the presence of thyroid or other substances that may have led to atrial fibrillation. Chest X-rays and stress tests are also used for the diagnosis of AFib.
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