Overview on atrial fibrillation

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Atrial fibrillation is a form of arrhythmia where the heart beats irregularly. This is usually brought about by disruption in the transmission of electrical signals that control the regular heart rhythm.

The risk is increased with age especially those at age 75 and older. The indications are not always evident but might include palpitations, chest pain, erratic heartbeat, fainting spells and dizziness. Remember that treatment is vital even if there are no symptoms present. If left untreated, complications might arise including a heart attack and stroke.

What are the indications?

Overview on atrial fibrillation
Palpitations or sensation of a fluttering heartbeat is one of the indications of atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation does not often have any evident symptoms and stays undetected for long periods of time. In case the symptoms manifest, it can include:

  • Palpitations or sensation of a fluttering heartbeat
  • Chest pain or angina
  • Dizziness
  • Generalized malaise
  • Low tolerance for physical activity
  • Fainting spells

What are the causes?

It is important to note that atrial fibrillation is usually triggered by another condition or event that disrupts the heart. Some of the usual causes include the following:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • Chest trauma
  • Chest surgery
  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Heart valve diseases
  • Excessive use of alcohol and caffeine
  • Certain conditions such as pneumonia
  • Certain prescribed drugs

Oftentimes, a precise cause could not be determined. Remember that atrial fibrillation is likely with age even without the mentioned risk factors.

Management

The treatment for atrial fibrillation is based on various factors including the severity of the condition, age and general health as well as benefits versus the risks of treatment. Essentially, the longer the individual has the condition, the less effective the conservative measures will be.

Commonly used treatment options include the following:

  • Medications that normalize the heart rhythm – these include digoxin, amiodarone and other anti-arrhythmic agents. These can be given as tablets or injections. Since some of these medications can trigger poisoning, regular testing to check the liver and thyroid function might be needed.
  • Beta-blockers are medications that slow down the heart rate
  • Medications that lower the risk for stroke – these include blood-thinning medications
  • Electric shock therapy (electrical cardioversion) – this is performed under general anesthesia in which an electrical shock is delivered to the chest to reset the electrical system of the heart.

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