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Wednesday, 08 January 2014 00:00

Managing Your Atrial Fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

An abnormal heart rhythm is called an arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation is one type of abnormal rhythm. The muscle looks as if it is wiggling instead of squeezing (contracting).

What Happens During Atrial Fibrillation?

The human heart has four chambers. The upper ones are called atria; the lower ones, ventricles. All chambers must squeeze in a certain way to move the blood properly. A fibrillating atrium, however, has a small, irregular, fast contractions. All the blood inside the atria is not pumped into ventricles, so blood pools. Pooled blood may clot, and clots can be pushed into the bloodstream and cause strokes. Ventricles work harder to get blood to the body, and heart failure may result. 

What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?

Among the many causes the most common is aging. Others are heart problems such as hypertension (high blood pressure), congestive heart failure (CHF), and mitral valve disease (mitral stenosis). Lung diseases, other illnesses (e.g., diabetes), and overactive thyroid are more causes. Caffeine, nicotine (cigarettes), and too much alcohol can cause it or make it worse.

What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?

Many people have atrial fibrillation and never feel it. Symptoms often include the feeling of irregular or too fast (palpitations) heartbeats. Difficulty breathing, chest pain, or fainting may occur. Some people feel tired  or cannot exercise.

Chest pain or signs of stroke must be checked immediately.

How is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?

The doctor looks for a certain pattern on an electrocardiogram (ECG), which shows the heart's electrical activity.

The doctor may check movements of the atria with an echocardiogram (using ultrasound to examine the heart).

How is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?

Treatment focuses on the cause. For example, if the person has thyroid disease, that illness is treated. If the cause is too much caffeine or excess alcohol, less should be used.

Controlling heart rhythm and the fibrillation rate with drugs is important. Sometimes atrial fibrillation stops on its own.

Clots are one complication of fibrillation. Blood thinners (anticoagulants) such as warfarin (e.g., Coumadin) may be given for clots or to prevent them. This drug causes easy bruising or bleeding, so drug levels are checked regularly.

The abnormal rhythm can sometimes be shocked back to normal (called cardioversion). Chest pain, low blood pressure, CHF, or other serious symptoms may require emergency cardioversion. A dual chamber pacemaker may be placed. A heart catheter or surgery (maze procedure) may be used to destroy the part of the heart causing fibrillation.

DOs and DON'Ts in Managing Atrial Fibrillation:

  • DO eat a heart-healthy diet (less fat and cholesterol).
  • DO keep to an ideal body weight.
  • DO reduce stress.
  • DO exercise as much as you can if you are taking the proper drugs and have no symptoms.
  • DO take your medicines as prescribed. Have blood drug levels checked.
  • DO call your doctor if you have drug side effects or if you have new or worsening symptoms.
  • DON'T do activities that cause bruising if you are taking a blood thinner.
  • DON'T use tobacco.
  • DON'T drink too much alcohol or caffeine.

For more information, see the attachments below.

Read 1789 times Last modified on Thursday, 09 January 2014 14:52

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