Atrial fibrillation is defined as an erratic and often oddly rapid heart rate. The normal heart rate must be between 60-100 beats a minute while at rest.
If an individual has atrial fibrillation, the heartbeat is erratic and can be quite rapid. In some instances, it is evidently higher than 100 beats in a minute. This can lead to issues such as shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue. The individual might be conscious of heart palpitations in which the heart seems as if it is pounding, beating erratically or fluttering, frequently for a few seconds or minutes.
In some cases, there are no symptoms present and the individual is unaware that his/her heart rate is not regular.
When to consult a doctor
A doctor should be seen if:
- There is an abrupt change in the heartbeat
- The heartbeat is lower than 60 or higher than 100 especially if there are other signs of atrial fibrillation such as shortness of breath or dizziness.
In case chest pain is present, doctor must be seen right away.
What are the causes?
When the heart is beating normally, its muscular walls contract to drive blood out all over the body. This is followed by relaxation so that the heart is filled with blood once again. This process is repeated every time the heart beats.
If atrial fibrillation is present, the upper chambers of the heart contract in a random manner and oftentimes too rapid that the heart muscle could not relax adequately in between contractions. This diminishes the efficiency and performance of the heart.
It is important to note that atrial fibrillation occurs once the erratic electrical impulses abruptly start firing in the atria. These impulses override the natural pacemaker of the heart which could no longer regulate the heart rhythm, thus resulting to an erratic pulse rate.
Atrial fibrillation is not considered life-threatening but can cause discomfort and often necessitates treatment.
The commonly used treatment options include the following:
- Drugs for stroke prevention since individuals with atrial fibrillation are at higher risk for stroke
- Medications to regulate the heart rate or rhythm
- Cardioversion in which the heart is provided with a regulated electric shock to restore the normal rhythm
- Catheter ablation involves destroying the region in the heart responsible for the erratic heart rhythm with radiofrequency energy. This is followed by the placement of a pacemaker to assist the heart in beating regularly.