What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Affecting more than three million Americans every year, atrial fibrillation (also called afib) is a common form of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that can significantly affect many areas of your body, including your blood vessels and circulatory system.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart (the atria) fail to beat in sync with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart, causing an irregular heartbeat. As a result, this irregularity can pose a major risk for stroke and heart failure. Atrial fibrillation comes in three different forms:

Occasional – The symptoms of occasional afib can come and go, lasting for minutes to hours, and then stop on their own.

Persistent – Persistent afib occurs when the heart rhythm fails to go back to normal on its own and requires treatment to rehabilitate the heart back to a normal rhythm.

Permanent – Permanent afib occurs when the normal heart rhythm cannot be restored and will need medications to control the heart rate as well as blood thinners to prevent clotting.

What are the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

Depending on their condition, some who have atrial fibrillation may not feel any symptoms at all. Others may experience distinct signs and symptoms. These can include:

  • Palpitations (sensations of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat)
  • Weakness
  • Trouble exercising
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

What are the risk factors associated with atrial fibrillation?

There are multiple health conditions and diseases that can make you more susceptible to developing atrial fibrillation. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Lung diseases
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stimulants like caffeine, tobacco, certain medications or alcohol  
  • Previous heart surgery
  • Viral infections
  • Sleep apnea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Treating atrial fibrillation

The right treatment for your atrial fibrillation will depend on the cause, severity, type and symptoms you have. Certain medications are often a crucial part of treatment. They may include:

  • Blood thinners to help prevent clots, which can lead to strokes
  • Medications to help prevent rapid heart beat
  • Medications to help normalize heart rhythm
  • A procedure called cardioversion to restore a normal heart rate

What you can do

Because atrial fibrillation is often caused by heart disease or damage, making changes to improve your heart’s health can improve your condition and ease symptoms. Things you can do include:

  • Avoid stimulants like tobacco and caffeine
  • Consume a balanced, heart-healthy diet
  • Get regular exercise
  • Manage other health problems
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid infections by washing hands often

For more information on atrial fibrillation, call the vascular specialists at Baton Rouge Vascular Specialty Center today at (225) 769-4493 to schedule your next appointment.