We often take for granted the fact that our heart keeps on beating in an organized fashion, maintaining a consistent supply of nutrients and oxygen to all of our vital organs. But what if it didn’t? What if your heartbeat was too fast, fluttery or unorganized, leaving you with chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, exhaustion and discomfort on a daily basis? For 2 million people or 1% of our population, this is the case. The most common kind of irregular heartbeat – also called arrhythmia – is atrial fibrillation (AF). Since it is National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, we would like to share the causes and dangers of AF as well as some common treatment options.
Causes and Complications of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation results from electrical misfiring in the heart, which leads to an unorganized heart rhythm. The sinus node is located on the top right chamber of the heart (the right atrium), and it produces an electrical signal that continues throughout the heart. When that signal is erratic, the atrium quivers rapidly and the lower chambers beat at a slower rate. Blood flow does not move efficiently, and discomfort, shortness of breath and other symptoms occur.
What causes the sinus node to misfire this way? There are a number of possible reasons:
- Congenital heart conditions
- Exposure to stimulants, such as tobacco, caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
- High blood pressure
- Stress or viral illness
- Sleep apnea
- Lung, thyroid or previous heart conditions
While atrial fibrillation can be uncomfortable and exhausting, it is also dangerous. In fact, 15% of stroke patients also have atrial fibrillation. And 70% of AF patients who have strokes die from them. Why? This condition leads to an increased number of blood clots due to the unorganized flow of blood through the heart.
How Is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?
While atrial fibrillation can lead to dangerous complications, it can be treated a number of ways. The goals are to reset the electrical impulses or maintain a regular heartbeat and to prevent blood clots. This can be achieved using:
- Medication to control the electrical impulses and maintain a normal rhythm
- Electrical conversion using a paddle to reset the heartbeat
- Surgery and catheter procedures to reset and change the electric impulses controlling the heartbeat
- Medication to prevent blood clots
Do you have any questions about possible arrhythmia symptoms, chest pain or heart health? Please visit the North Hills Heart Center online or contact us at (817) 255-1000.