Irregular heartbeat or Arrhythmias are abnormalities in the electrical activity of the heart. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. Your heart is made of four chambers; the right atrium and ventricle and the left atrium and ventricle. The blood from the body (on the right side) or the lungs (on the left side) enters the atrium and goes to the body via the ventricles. Atrium and Ventricles beat in sync with each other. Atrial fibrillation is a condition where the atria contracts independently of ventricles and at nearly 300 times per minute! AF results in a chaotic electrical activity in the atria of your heart.
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
Development of AF is related to a number of risk factors like:
- Cardiovascular diseases like rheumatic heart disease, coronary artery disease
- Age: the prevalence increases with age
- Gender: males are more likely to develop AF
- Previous heart surgery
- Hyperactive thyroid gland
- Exposure to stimulants like alcohol or caffeine
Complications of Atrial Fibrillation
- The most common complication of AF is the formation of a blood clot i.e. a thrombus in the atria. The thrombus or a part of it may get dislodged and enter the circulation where it may block an artery in an organ like the brain leading to a stroke.
- Another complication of AF is heart failure. Uncontrolled AF leads to the weakening of the heart because of which your heart is unable to meet the demands of the body leading to heart failure.
Diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation
To diagnose AF your doctor would like to take a detailed history and thoroughly examine your cardiovascular system. To confirm the diagnosis your doctor might order a few tests.
- Electro cardiogram (ECG): small leads will be placed on your chest to measure the electrical activity of your heart. The resulting electrocardiogram will help you doctor look for AF.
- Holter monitor: a version of ECG where you can freely move around. Holter monitor monitors the electrical activity of your heart for a prolonged interval as you go about your normal activities of the day; this will allow your doctor to catch AF and review your heart’s activity over a longer time interval.
- Echocardiogram: for this procedure, a probe will be placed on your chest. This probe produces sound waves which are used to visuals the chambers of your heart and the contents. They help in looking for clots in the atria; which are major side effects of prolonged AF. Another form of echocardiogram is a transesophageal echocardiogram where an ultrasound producing probe is passed into your food pipe via your mouth. This allows for better visualization of the chambers of the heart.
- Stress test: for this test, your heart will be monitored as you exercise.
- Chest X Ray: the x-ray is done to look at the heart and the lungs
- Blood test: to check for levels of thyroid hormone and rule out the presence of substances that may cause and AF.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Most of the individuals with AF are asymptomatic. Among those that are symptomatic the symptoms are:
- Tachycardia: increased heart rate
- Palpitation: sensation of the heart beating
- Light headedness
- Chest pain
Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation
The treatment regimen for AF depends on a number of factors like your blood pressure, the health of your heart and the rate of AF. The aim of the treatment is to
- Prevent stroke
- Control rate
- Control rhythm