AFib—known medically as Atrial Fibrillation—is a condition that affects the heart, causing it to beat irregularly. More specifically, the upper chambers of the heart will ‘quiver’ instead of pumping effectively. This is caused by the abnormal firing of electrical impulses. Although not always the case, people suffering from AFib may notice a faster-than-usual heart rate (over 100 beats per minute) at rest.
AFib is one of the most common heart rhythm disorders. Around 2.7 million Americans live with it. Mostly, AFib affects people over the age of 60. People older than 40 have a roughly 25% chance of developing AFib in their lifetime.
Read more about AFib and its mechanisms by clicking here.
Some people have no symptoms of AFib and may live with it for a long time without exhibiting any. However, others may notice symptoms such as:
- Heart palpitations (a sense that the heart is beating quickly or fluttering. This is the most common symptom of AFib)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain (call 9-1-1 or your emergency service number immediately if chest pain or shortness of breath occurs)
It is important to call emergency medical services right away if AFib occurs with any of the above, or the above symptoms are particularly severe.
Sometimes AFib can occur in ‘episodes’ that appear a few times a year but resolve on their own. Other times, AFib can cause an irregular heart rhythm for over a week or even months and years.
Read more about symptoms by clicking here.
AFib typically occurs as a result of another underlying heart condition, such as heart valve disease, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, myocarditis, pericarditis, sick sinus syndrome or cardiomyopathy.
However, AFib can sometimes occur without any prior warning or heart issue at all. Around half of young people with AFib have no other heart problems. This is called lone atrial fibrillation. It can be caused by non-heart-related conditions such as an overactive thyroid, excessive alcohol use, pneumonia or pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs).
As previously stated, AFib often accompanies other heart-related conditions. By itself, Afib may not be serious in some patients despite being uncomfortable. However, AFib is known to be associated with stroke, sometimes increasing the risk of stroke five-fold.
To reduce the risk of complications, individuals should visit a doctor within 24 hours if AFib appears to come and go or persists for a without the symptoms of shortness of breath and chest pain. If chest pain or shortness of breath is present, call emergency medical services immediately.
Read more about complications of AFib by clicking here.
Traditionally, treatment for AFib seeks to slow down—or otherwise return to normal—the heart rate and reduce the chance of blood clots forming. Cardiac rate control may be restored by medications administered intravenously if serious symptoms are present. In patients with less serious symptoms, oral medications may be sufficient. To prevent stroke, many people with AFib are given a blood-thinning drug called (). Read more about AFib treatment by clicking here.
Disclaimer: This article is not exhaustive, and it is recommended that official medical sources (such as the links provided) are used to research heart conditions.
Featured image: Depositphotos / ocskaymarkPosted on May 5, 2023