Atrial fibrillation is caused when the two upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly and often rapidly. These upper chambers are also known as the atria. The irregular beating of the heart is also known as arrhythmia and can be constant of can come and go. Normally the blood pumps out of the chambers, but when a little blood is left it can pool and cause clotting. If the blood clots move out of the heart and become stuck in the arteries in the brain, it causes a stroke. The older a person gets the higher the chances are of developing atrial fibrillation. Commonly people over the age of 65 have a greater chance of developing the condition, with almost 3-5% having atrial fibrillation.
In some people atrial fibrillation causes no signs or symptoms. For others, very noticeable heart palpitations and an increased heart rate can be obvious. For a person with a normal heart, the heart will have electrical impulses in the right atrium that will produce consistent muscle contractions. This will cause the atria to contract. A person that has atrial fibrillation will have multiple electrical impulses that run through the atria all together. This causes chaotic and irregular contractions of the heart. The contractions of the atria can become as fast as 600 beats per minute, although most commonly the rates are between 110 to190 beats per minute. A person with a normal heart rate should have anywhere from 50 to 100 beats per minute. When a heart beats more than 100 times a minute it is called tachycardia. A person that is experiencing tachycardia often complains of having a fluttering sensation in the chest.
There are three different patterns associated with atrial fibrillation, intermittent, persistant and permanent. Intermittent atrial fibrillation is when the heart can spontaneously convert back to a normal beating rate again. Episodes of intermittent atrial fibrillation can last days or only seconds. Persistent atrial fibrillation is when the episodes of the arrhythmia require medical treatment. The heart rate does not convert back to normal on its own. Permanent atrial fibrillation means that the heart is in a constant state of atrial fibrillation. This also means that the heart is unable to convert back to normal beating rhythm.
It is important to seek medical treatment for this condition in order not to cause permanent or severe medical problems. There are different ways of treating atrial fibrillation. Often medications used to treat the condition, such as beta blockers, are enough to solve the problem. Electrical cardioversion can be used to create a normal rhythm of the heart by using electrical shock to the heart. This method is typically not used unless medications show no sign of improving the condition. Another method of correcting the condition is radiofrequency ablation. This involves introducing flexible and skinny tubes into a blood vessel and into the heart muscle. Radiofrequency energy is used to destroy the tissue that is causing the abnormal signals. If nothing else works, it is often necessary to use surgery or an atrial pacemaker to regulate the heart rhythm once again.
It is important to prevent a stroke by first treating atrial fibrillation. For this reason it is important to maintain a healthy heart and schedule regular and routine medical exams. The older a person gets, the more important it is to keep a check on their heart and make sure atrial fibrillation is not developing. Doctors often prescribe aspirin as a daily preventative treatment in patients under the age of 75 that run the risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Be sure to see your doctor regularly to ensure sure you are not at risk.
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