What is the leading cause of death in the United States? If you said heart disease, then you are correct. Over the course of one’s lifetime, the various stresses we experience as well as things like poor diet and exercise tend to take their toll on our internal organs. The heart, responsible for pumping blood and keeping us alive is often one of the first things to begin developing problems. In addition, strokes as well, are the 5th most common cause of death in the US.
What do all of these things have in common? Well, our general health is due in part to how our heart beats. When something begins to change this pattern and makes it uneven, problems can begin developing both in the heart as well as cause poor circulation throughout the body. Without addressing the underlying issue, individuals will be forced to try and solve countless symptoms that will show up throughout the body, including heart disease and strokes.
Let’s take a moment to review Atrial Fibrillation. How does Atrial Fibrillation play into your health and why should you be concerned about it? Let’s take a moment to look at what Atrial Fibrillation is, what the different types of Atrial Fibrillation are, what the symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation can be, what some of the causes for Atrial Fibrillation can be, risk factors that you should be aware of, and finally, how to prepare for your first doctor’s visit to begin discussing Atrial Fibrillation.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
So, what is AFib? Simply put, AFib, or Atrial Fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate. The primary cause for this irregular heartbeat is due to poor blood flow throughout the body. Atrial Fibrillation is recognized by observing the two upper chambers of the heart. When these chambers (the atria) beat irregularly, they begin beating out of coordination with the two lower chambers. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations and dizziness can result. No AFib definition is complete without a note that atrial fibrillation can come and go away, sometimes not requiring treatment. At the same time, if the Atrial Fibrillation gets worse over time, then a medical professional should look it at.
Atrial Fibrillation can lead to further complications such as increased risk of heart disease and stroke. As s result, many people who experience chronic Atrial Fibrillation are recommended to begin searching for a way to bring their heartbeat back to a typical rhythm. This can be done through procedures like those designed to install a pacemaker. Ultimately, the kind of surgery or preventative operation you have will depend on what type of Atrial Fibrillation you have, how it affects your body and your own unique physiology.
What Are Different Types Of Atrial Fibrillation?
There are three primary kinds of Atrial Fibrillation. The first and least dangerous is Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation. Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation is when the faulty electrical signals and sudden change in heart rate come and go on their own. While the symptoms can range from mild to severe, they are almost always gone after 24 hours of onset. If the period of time where you have Atrial Fibrillation is longer, then chances are you have Persistent Atrial Fibrillation.
Persistent Atrial Fibrillation is similar to Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation, except for the fact that it lasts for far longer. With the same range from mild to severe, a Persistent Atrial Fibrillation will continue upwards of a week. Sometimes, it will go away on its own, other times, it will require medication.
Of all the types of AFib, Permanent Atrial Fibrillation is the one to be most concerned about. Permanent Atrial Fibrillation involves your heart rhythm being unable to restore itself on its own. In addition, it means that your heart rate cannot be restored by treatment either, usually requiring surgery and the installation of a pacemaker. Permanent Atrial Fibrillation can be an end result of Persistent or Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation if given enough time, meaning that any of the earlier types can slowly progress to this point. Regardless, if you have Permanent Atrial Fibrillation, then you should seek medical attention to restore your normal heart rate.
What Are Symptoms Of Atrial Fibrillation?
Is AFib dangerous? Let’s take a look at how the symptoms are produced to better answer this question. Atrial Fibrillation means that insufficient amount of blood is being pumped throughout your body. A lack of blood means differences in blood pressure, and as a result, a whole host of symptoms can result. Some of the most common symptoms that individuals with Atrial Fibrillation experience include chest pain, a shortness of breath, momentary confusion, dizziness, lightheadedness, increased fatigue, reduced ability to exercise compared to normal, weakness, and heart palpitations.
Depending on the kind of Atrial Fibrillation you have, individuals will experience varying degrees of effect in their life. Individuals with occasional Atrial Fibrillation may feel like they can live with the temporary discomfort while individuals with persistent or permanent Atrial Fibrillation will want to contact a doctor to address this issue. It should be noted that a doctor should check any change in your heart rate from regular to irregular. With that in mind, Atrial Fibrillation should be brought to a doctor’s attention immediately, especially if it is becoming more frequent or of greater concern to you.
What Are Some Causes of Atrial Fibrillation?
There is a wide range of possible causes for Atrial Fibrillation that include both lifestyle and genetic. Lifestyle causes of Atrial Fibrillation can include high blood pressure, exposure to stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and others, stress due to pneumonia, as well as previous surgery or other illnesses. Genetic causes of Atrial Fibrillation can include heart attacks, abnormal heart valves, coronary artery disease, an overactive thyroid, lung diseases, previous heart surgery, sick sinus syndrome, and sleep apnea. As a final consideration, individuals can have AFib without any damage to their heart. Though rare, it is referred to as lone Atrial Fibrillation.
Risk Factors To Consider for AFib
Many risk factors increase the likelihood that you will get Atrial Fibrillation. While each of these alone may not be the primary cause, having several of these things together will dramatically increase the chances of developing Atrial Fibrillation. The first and most unavoidable things to consider include age and family history. As we get older, our muscles begin to lose their strength and it is harder to stay fit and healthy. In addition, a family history of Atrial Fibrillation will leave you predisposed to it. Some of the things that you may not be able to influence include heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions like lung or kidney disease. What you have more control over when it comes to risk factors include obesity and drinking alcohol.
How To Prepare For An Appointment to Address Atrial Fibrillation
Not addressing your AFib means exposing yourself to complications like stroke or heart failure. As both of these things can be fatal, it is far better to be proactive and to see your doctor immediately regarding your conditions. One of the best things you can do after scheduling the appointment is to be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions and to follow them. The doctor may want to take a test, and if you are prepared ahead of time you will not need to come in again. Be sure to write down any symptoms you are experiencing as well as their frequency and intensity. If you can, keep a log of all of this information. Also, make a list of all medications that you may be on. If you have any family history, then be sure to put that down as well. Finally, write down questions you might want to ask your doctor beforehand. With this list, you can read your concerns and have them addressed, even if you forget in the moment what some of those concerns might be.
The most common way that Atrial Fibrillation is diagnosed is through the use of an Electrocardiogram, or EKG machine. Non-invasive, this test requires no surgery or needs, but instead relies on painless electrodes to get a measure of your heart rate. In addition, blood tests and even an X-ray may be taken if the doctor needs to learn more about your current condition. As always, be sure to discuss with your doctor any tests that are recommended, as well as the possibility for complications that may arise from such tests. With that in mind, it is far better to treat Atrial Fibrillation than to ignore treatment due to risks in treatment.
Putting It All Together
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people die from heart related conditions that may be linked to Atrial Fibrillation. If you are having the symptoms listed above, then don’t wait. You owe it to yourself to be checked out by a doctor and to see whether or not it is a problem. By addressing your Atrial Fibrillation sooner rather than later, you prevent the damage that can be caused by Atrial Fibrillation, improving your quality of life and leading to a more healthy living.