What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition characterized by an irregular and rapid heartbeat that hampers blood supply to the body. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers (atria) and the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart lack coordination, causing a rapid and irregular heart rhythm. People with atrial fibrillation may experience palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue or lack of energy. Atrial fibrillation can be intermittent (occasional) or chronic. Atrial fibrillation is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health consequences.

Risks for Atrial Fibrillation

Some of the risk factors for atrial fibrillation include the following:

  • Ageing: Overage 60 although it may occur at any age
  • Affects more whites than blacks
  • Affects more men than women
  • Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Pulmonary embolism: a blood clot in the lungs
  • Diabetes
  • Nerve conditions
  • Excessive alcohol, caffeine or tobacco intake
  • Heart disease caused by high cholesterol

Diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation

A cardiologist should evaluate all heart conditions for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your cardiologist will review your medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Diagnostic studies may include routine blood tests, electrocardiogram (measures the electrical activity of the heart), chest X-ray, echocardiogram (ultrasound images) and Holter monitor (an ambulatory device that measures the electrical activity of the heart). Treatment options may include medications, specific medical procedures and surgery. Surgery may be necessary for patients with chronic AF who do not respond to medication or procedures and in people with other co-morbid conditions requiring heart surgery. Surgical procedures for atrial fibrillation are open-heart procedures, performed under general anaesthesia.

In AF patients with other heart problems such as valve disease or coronary artery disease, which also require surgery, a combination of the surgeries may be used to treat AF and the co-morbid condition simultaneously.

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