Understanding Atrial Fibrillation and Its Causes, Symptoms
Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib or AF, is a type of irregular heartbeat that can lead to severe complications if not addressed. With the advancements in medical technology, understanding, and detection methods, managing and recognizing this condition has become more accessible. Let’s take a look at the causes, symptoms, and treatments for atrial fibrillation, to help you understand this condition better and help promote Afib Awareness.
Atrial Fibrillation Explained
At the heart of the matter (pun intended) is your heartbeat. In a normally functioning heart, electrical signals ensure that your heart muscles contract in a synchronized manner. This synchronization ensures a regular and predictable heartbeat. However, with atrial fibrillation, these electrical signals go haywire, causing the two upper chambers of the heart, the atria, to quiver or "fibrillate." As a result, the heart doesn't pump blood as effectively as it should, which can lead to several complications, including the risk of stroke.
Causes of AFib can vary. Some common ones include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and conditions that damage the heart's electrical system. Other risk factors might include obesity, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, and certain medications. Aging is also a factor, as AFib is more common in older adults.
Checking for Afib at Home
Detecting atrial fibrillation can sometimes be a challenge because you might not always feel symptoms. Some people find out they have AFib during a routine checkup, while others might notice something is off and consult a doctor.
One simple way to check for irregularities in your heartbeat at home is to feel your pulse. You can place your index and third finger on the inside of your wrist, below the base of your thumb. A regular pulse will have a steady rhythm, whereas an irregular one might suggest the presence of AFib or other cardiac conditions.
The best way to check for Atrial Fibrillation is with an Afib device that has specific screening features for Afib. BIOS Medical is the only Canadian company that manufactures an Afib device. The Blood Pressure Monitor – with Atrial Fibrillation Screening monitor uses patented MAM averaging and advanced blood pressure PC software for the most precise readings and detailed heart health analysis.
For a more accurate reading, you can use pulse monitors or heart rate monitors, which are widely available today. These gadgets, often found in smartwatches or fitness bands, can monitor your heart rate continuously or on demand. They can alert you if they detect any irregularities. Though they are helpful, it's crucial to understand that these are not replacements for medical devices or professional medical evaluations. If you suspect you have AFib, always consult a healthcare professional.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation and What to Watch For
Not everyone with atrial fibrillation will experience symptoms, but those who do might notice palpitations or an unusual fluttering in the chest. Other symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, and reduced ability to exercise. Some people also report chest pain or pressure, which is an immediate signal to seek medical attention.
In some cases, AFib can lead to complications like stroke, heart failure, or other heart-related issues. That's why it's crucial to be aware of its symptoms and get a proper diagnosis if you suspect something's amiss.
When You Should Call 911
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a stroke, heart attack, or a severe episode of atrial fibrillation, it's essential to act swiftly. Time is of the essence in these situations. Do not attempt to drive to the hospital yourself; calling 911 ensures you get immediate medical attention and can be life-saving. Paramedics can initiate treatment en route to the hospital, potentially improving outcomes.
Symptoms of Stroke
A stroke occurs when a part of the brain is deprived of blood. The acronym "FAST" is a useful way to remember and recognize the symptoms:
One side of the face might droop or feel numb. When the person smiles, the smile may appear uneven.
When raising both arms, one arm may drift downward.
Speech may sound slurred, or the person may have trouble speaking or understanding speech.
If you notice any of these symptoms, even if they seem to go away, call 911 and get to the hospital immediately.
Symptoms of Heart Attack
A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
- Chest discomfort or pain that might feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas, such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
How Afib Affects the Body
Atrial fibrillation doesn't just impact the heart. Its effects can ripple throughout the body. The heart's primary role is to pump blood, supplying oxygen and nutrients to various tissues. When AFib occurs, the heart's upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively, compromising this vital function. This can lead to blood pooling and clot formation. If a clot breaks free, it can travel to the brain, causing a stroke. Additionally, because the heart isn't pumping effectively, the body may not receive the oxygen it needs, leading to fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
How Common is Afib?
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of serious heart arrhythmia. Millions of people worldwide are affected by it. Its prevalence increases with age, making older adults more susceptible. Other factors, like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, can also increase the risk of developing AFib. With an aging population and the rise of these risk factors, the incidence of AFib is expected to grow.