Atrial Fibrillation: Symptoms and Treatments

According to the American Heart Association, at least 2.7 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF. It is a heart rhythm disorder that can significantly increase the risk of stroke if left untreated.

Knowing more about this condition is key to living with AFib and potentially reducing your risk of having a stroke. In this post, learn more about AF, its causes, secondary side effects it can trigger, the warning signs and symptoms to watch out for, how it is diagnosed and treated, and if it can be prevented.

Known Causes of AFib

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Currently, experts know of several risk factors for this condition, which include the following:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Lifestyle choices
  • High intensity athletic activity
  • Other health conditions
  • Aging

That said, experts still do not know the exact cause of AFib.

Atrial Fibrillation Secondary Side Effects

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An irregular heartbeat is not considered dangerous on its own, but rather because of the secondary side effects, it can lead to. With time, and especially if nothing is done to address the issue, ongoing heartbeat anomalies can contribute to major complications. These complications include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Fainting behind the wheel
  • Blood clots
  • Heart failure
  • Chronic fatigue and malaise

Further, experts note a correlation between dementia and AFib. Although the exact connection between the two is unknown, experts believe that AFib is related to increased dementia risk.

Common Symptoms & Warning Signs

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Commonly reported symptoms of this condition include:

  • Rapid, irregular, fluttering, quivering or jumping heartbeat
  • Feeling of ongoing general fatigue and/or malaise that is unresponsive to other measures
  • Dizziness, faintness, lightheadedness
  • Mental fog or confusion
  • Fainting spells
  • Sweating even while at rest
  • Unusual fatigue during physical activity
  • Feelings of pressure or pain in the chest area
  • A feeling of shortness of breath or being unable to take a full breath
  • Anxiety and confusion

Many of these symptoms are not unique to AFib. In other words, having these symptoms alone does not necessarily mean you have AFib. As such, it’s important to consult a licensed medical professional to receive a proper diagnosis. This way, you can receive appropriate treatment for whatever condition it is you have.

Options For Effective Treatment

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Treatment will depend on symptoms and test results. For example, one approach is to control the heart’s rhythm. Another approach is to control the heart’s beat rate. At the same time, the treatment also requires guarding against blood clots, reducing the risk of stroke, and preventing heart failure.

There are several ways to achieve these goals, including the following.

Medications

Common medications for AF are:

  • Pradaxa
  • Effient
  • Eliquis
  • Maltaq

Pacemakers

A pacemaker is a tiny battery-operated device implanted under the skin. It is used to control one side effect of AF, which is slow heart rate (bradycardia).

Cardioversion

This type of procedure can be done with medications or electric shocks. The goal is to “reset” heart beat function to normal, according to the American Heart Association.

Surgery

There are plenty of surgical options to treat this condition, the most successful of which is the MAZE procedure. The goal is to create scar tissue that can interfere with electrical impulses resulting in abnormal heartbeat symptoms.

Final Thoughts

AFib is no joke, resulting in 454,000 hospitalizations and contributing to 158,000 deaths annually in the United States alone. Those at risk of this condition should talk to their medical provider to discuss strategies for mitigating the risk of developing AFib or, if they already have it, to minimize the risk of complications.

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