Rapid, uncoordinated contraction of the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, is a condition called atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of rapid, irregular heart rate, affecting up to 1 in 10 people over the age of 60 due to simple ageing of the heart and coronary artery disease. During atrial fibrillation, the atria contract weakly at 300-500 beats per minute and so ventricular filling is inadequate.
Since the atria and ventricles are no longer beating together, the heartbeat and pulse become irregular in timing and strength and less blood than normal is pumped out of the heart to the rest of the body, including the heart and’brain.
The most dangerous complication of atrial fibrillation is a stroke. Since the atria do not empty properly during contractions, blood stagnates in them and may form a clot. If a part of the clot breaks off and enters the bloodstream, it may block an artery anywhere in the body. A stroke occurs when part of a clot blocks an artery supplying the brain.
What Are The Causes of Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation may occur for no apparent reason, especially in the elderly. Smoking, lack of exercise, a high-fat diet and being overweight are risk factors for many of these disorders. Atrial fibrillation is also common in people with an overactive thyroid gland or low potassium levels in the blood. It may occur in people who drink to excess or use cocaine and crack.
What Are The Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
Symptoms do not always develop, but, if they do, their onset is usually sudden. The symptoms may be intermittent or persistent and typically include:
- palpitations (awareness of an irregular or abnormally rapid heartbeat)
- shortness of breath
- shortness of breath at night that wakes you up
- chest pain (angina).
Measures For Atrial Fibrillation
- Electrocardiography (ECG).
- Tests to look for an underlying cause such as hyperthyroidism.
What is The Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation?
- You may be prescribed anti-arrhythmic drugs, including digoxin, to slow a rapid heartbeat, and beta-blocker drugs.
- You may also be prescribed the anticoagulant drug warfarin, which reduces the risk of blood clot formation and thereby lowers the risk of a stroke.