Experiences withAtrial fibrillation
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation
In atrial fibrillation, the heart rate is irregular and can sometimes be very fast. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute.
You may be aware of noticeable heart palpitations, where your heart feels like it's pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for a few seconds or, in some cases, a few minutes.
Sometimes atrial fibrillation does not cause any symptoms and a person who has it is completely unaware that their heart rate is irregular.
What causes atrial fibrillation?
When the heart beats normally, its muscular walls tighten and squeeze (contract) to force blood out and around the body.
They then relax so the heart can fill with blood again. This process is repeated every time the heart beats.
In atrial fibrillation, the heart's upper chambers (atria) contract randomly and sometimes so fast that the heart muscle cannot relax properly between contractions. This reduces the heart's efficiency and performance.
Atrial fibrillation happens when abnormal electrical impulses suddenly start firing in the atria.
These impulses override the heart's natural pacemaker, which can no longer control the rhythm of the heart. This causes you to have a highly irregular pulse rate.
The cause is not fully understood, but it tends to affect certain groups of people, such as older people and people living with long-term (chronic) conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or obesity.
It may be triggered by certain situations, such as drinking too much alcohol or smoking.
Atrial fibrillation can be defined in various ways, depending on the degree to which it affects you.
- paroxysmal atrial fibrillation – episodes come and go, and usually stop within 48 hours without any treatment
- persistent atrial fibrillation – each episode lasts for longer than 7 days (or less when it's treated)
- permanent atrial fibrillation – when it's present all the time
- long-standing atrial fibrillation – where you've had atrial fibrillation usually for over a year
Treating atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is not usually life threatening, but it can be uncomfortable and often requires treatment.
Treatment may involve:
- medicines to prevent a stroke (people with atrial fibrillation are more at risk of having a stroke)
- medicines to control the heart rate or rhythm
- cardioversion – where the heart is given a controlled electric shock to restore normal rhythm
- catheter ablation – where the area inside the heart that's causing the abnormal heart rhythm is destroyed using radiofrequency energy; afterwards you may then need to have a pacemaker fitted to help your heart beat regularly
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include heart palpitations, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Treatments for atrial fibrillation include medicines to control your heartbeat and thin your blood.
It's not clear what causes atrial fibrillation, but it's common in people with other heart conditions.
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