By Dr. Indranil Dutta, Internal Medicine
Atrial fibrillation is a disorder which is characterized by rapid and irregular heartbeats which raise the risks of heart failure and stroke. In this disorder, the upper chambers of the heart tend to beat irregularly and out of sync with the lower chambers of the heart. The episodes of atrial fibrillation come and subside in most cases, where as in some cases, these episodes might persist. The disorder in itself is not a life-threatening disorder, but it is advised to seek medical treatment on an emergency basis if affected.
In Atrial Fibrillation, one will experience symptoms of weakness, fatigue and confusion. Palpitations are a common symptom as well. One’s ability to carry out physical exercises or any other work that requires physical effort reduces and might throw up symptoms of irregular bouts of chest pain. Occasional atrial fibrillation is characterized by symptoms which come and go. Persistent atrial fibrillation is marked by persistent symptoms. In case of permanent atrial fibrillation, the rhythm of the heart can’t be restored.
Atrial fibrillation is caused when the upper and lower chambers of the heart go out of sync. The pacemaker of the heart regulates the beat of the chambers by sending electrical impulses to the heart. When atrial fibrillation occurs, the upper chambers do not get proper signals and hence quiver. The lower chambers continue to beat normally. The possible causes behind this are:
- Heart attack or stroke
- High blood pressure
- Congenital heart defects
- Diseases of the lung
- A previous heart surgery
- Infections caused by viruses
- Sleep apnea
- Abnormal heart valves
The treatments for atrial fibrillation focus on blood clot prevention and controlling the rhythm of the heart. The treatment for this condition is based on a proper diagnosis of the underlying condition. Your options are –
- Resetting the rhythm of the heart: Cardio version is a process to reset the rhythm of the heart back to normal. This process can be carried out either by electrical shocks to the heart or by the usage of medications.
- Medications to control the heart’s rhythm: Medications such as sotalol and flecainide help to maintain the heart’s rhythm.
- Surgical procedures: If the medications do not work, then the next resort is surgery. Surgery is carried out to get rid of the tissue that results in the erratic electrical signals and allow it to return to its normal rhythm.
- Blood thinning medications: Atrial fibrillation also increases the risks of formation of blood clots. Hence, blood thinning medications may be prescribed to prevent blood clots.