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Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia, a condition marked by an irregular heartbeat that is often abnormally fast (tachycardia). Atrial fibrillation is also known as AF or AFib.

Typically, the resting heart rate for adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. But atrial fibrillation can take it higher than that, even while the patient is resting. The change in heart rate can be observed by checking the pulse on the patient's wrist or in the neck.

The presence of atrial fibrillation in a patient can significantly raise the risk of several heart conditions, such as blood clots, stroke and heart failure.

Here's why atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke: the heart contracts and returns to its normal size during a regular heartbeat, but in the case of atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart—known as atria—beat irregularly to disrupt the normal flow of blood.

This condition can lead to clots in the blood, and one of the clots can simply enter into the bloodstream and get stuck in an artery, which can lead to a stroke.

According to the American Heart Institute, it is estimated that a significant number of people (15-20%) who suffer from strokes also suffer from atrial fibrillation.

Several studies point to the growing prevalence of atrial fibrillation worldwide. In India, though most studies have focused on the prevalence of valvular heart disease and other chronic heart conditions, the data from various epidemiological studies suggest India's A-Fib numbers are considerably higher than the global average.

About 1-1.5% of the population in the developing world is said to be suffering from atrial fibrillation—it is the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia. The other types of cardiac arrhythmia are:

  • Atrial flutter
  • Premature ventricular contractions
  • Ventricular tachycardia
  • Supraventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular fibrillation
  • Long QT syndrome

Coming back to atrial fibrillation, despite the lack of accurate data on the burden of atrial fibrillation among the Indian population, most studies have shown that the mean age of patients in India is nearly a decade younger than cohorts studied in Western countries.

  1. Atrial fibrillation symptoms
  2. Atrial fibrillation causes
  3. Atrial fibrillation prevention
  4. Atrial fibrillation diagnosis
  5. Atrial fibrillation treatment
  6. Medicines for Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation symptoms

Some patients do not present with any symptoms and therefore may not realise when they are suffering from atrial fibrillation. For other patients, some of these symptoms may surface:

Atrial fibrillation causes

Pre-existing heart disease or some damage to the heart's functions are primarily responsible for atrial fibrillation. Some of the causes include:

There is a higher prevalence of the disease among older individuals due to the natural process of ageing. Additionally, certain populations are also considered to be a higher risk for atrial fibrillation, mainly people of European descent as well as those suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. In some cases, atrial fibrillation has also been known to be connected with genetics.

Atrial fibrillation prevention

Prevention of this condition largely involves looking after oneself. This means leading a healthy lifestyle, looking after one's food habits and staying away from habits such as smoking and drinking. Regular checkups with a doctor can also help you monitor your heart health more closely, in order to prevent further complications.

Atrial fibrillation diagnosis

Individuals concerned about their heart health must not delay a visit to the doctor. If you have been feeling any of the above-mentioned symptoms like a fast heartbeat or lightheadedness lately, or have in the recent past, it is wise to get it checked by a doctor.

Doctors usually perform a physical exam along with asking you questions about your medical history and any symptoms you have experienced. A physical exam involves the checking of your pulse, blood pressure and breathing. Further tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) can help understand the behaviour of the heart for a certain duration.

If none of these examinations shows the presence of atrial fibrillation, doctors may recommend further tests, such as wearing a portable heart monitor for a day or two, to be able to monitor the functioning of the heart for a longer period of time. Other tests include performing an echocardiogram (echo), a kind of ultrasound which may be able to shed more light on your heart's health.

Blood tests can also be recommended to check for thyroid function and blood sugar (blood sugar test) as well as underlying conditions which may be undiagnosed but may be the cause of atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation treatment

There are a few different ways, depending on the degree of the disorder, that atrial fibrillation can be treated in patients. These include:

  • Medicines to regulate the heart rate and rhythm
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots and reduce the chances of stroke
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery is advised which can help the heart pump blood more efficiently
  • A change in lifestyle, along with regular doses of medicines, can help set patients on the path to recovery
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