Atrial fibrillation — also known simply as AF — is a condition in which the two upper chambers of the heart (the atria), quiver erratically rather than in strong beats. The bottom two chambers (the ventricles), continue to beat normally. This failure of the two halves of the heart to synch their rhythm disrupts proper blood flow and interferes with the heart’s ability to deliver blood to the body efficiently.
Atrial fibrillation could be occasional (paroxysmal) or chronic. With occasional AF, you may experience symptoms on and off for between several hours and several minutes. Chronic AF entails a constantly abnormal heartbeat.
Common Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Many people who have atrial fibrillation present with no symptoms and are completely unaware of their condition until a doctor discovers their problem during an exam. Others may experience complications related to a lack of oxygen and proper blood flow in the body.
Common symptoms of AF include:
- Low blood pressure
- Weakness and fatigue
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations (an irregular, fast, or uncomfortable heartbeat)
Treatment Options for Atrial Fibrillation
There are a number of treatment methods available for atrial fibrillation, and many people with this condition can lead a normal life with some care and adjustments. Treatment programs center on regulating the heartbeat and maintaining a normal rhythm. The right treatment program for you will depend on your medical history, your age and how long you have suffered from AF.
Common treatment options for Atrial Fibrillation include:
- Medication – Many medications that slow the heart rate are available and can effectively treat AF. Drugs like Ibutilide can restore a normal rhythm to the heart.
- Electrical Cardioversion – Using paddles, a cardiologist can electrically shock the heart of a patient under anesthesia in the hopes of resetting a normal heart rate. The shock will momentarily stop the heart, and when it starts again, it can often pick up its normal rhythm.
- Blood Clot Control – With a weakened heart rate, it’s important to prevent blood clots with blood thinning medications like warfarin.
- Radiofrequency Ablation – In many cases, an irregular heart rate can be sourced to rapidly-firing “trigger” areas of the heart muscle. By using radiofrequency energy to directly disable these hot spots, a cardiologist can return the heart to normal functioning.
- Pacemakers – An atrial pacemaker can help regulate the heartbeat.
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