It is once again that time of the year---Valentine’s Day. It’s a time when our hearts flutter or skip a beat because of the love we have for somebody…but what if that skipped, irregular heart beat is a sign of something more serious...atrial fibrillation?
What is atrial fibrillation?
Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. Certain cells in your heart make electric signals that cause the heart to contract and pump blood. In atrial fibrillation (AFib), the heart’s two small upper chambers (atria) don’t beat the way they should. Instead of beating in a normal pattern, the atria beat irregularly and too fast, quivering like a bowl of gelatin. It is estimated that at least 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
The cause of atrial fibrillation is not always known, however it can be the result of uncontrolled high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or a complication from heart surgery. No matter the cause, the most serious risk is that it can lead to other medical problems including:
- Heart failure
- Chronic fatigue
- Additional heart rhythm problems
- Inconsistent blood supply
Who is at risk for atrial fibrillation?
Anyone can develop atrial fibrillation, but typically people who have one or more of the following conditions are at greater risk of AFib:
- Advanced age
- High blood pressure
- Underlying heart disease
- Drinking alcohol
- Family history
- Sleep apnea
- Other chronic conditions – thyroid problems, diabetes, asthma
What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
People with atrial fibrillation may not have any symptoms and their condition is only detectable upon physical examination. Still others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- General fatigue
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Faintness or confusion
- Fatigue when exercising
- Chest pain or pressure*
How is atrial fibrillation treated?
Treatment of atrial fibrillation begins with a proper diagnosis through an in-depth examination from your healthcare provider. After a diagnosis, treatment goals will include restoring normal heart rhythms, reducing heart rate, preventing blood clots, managing stroke risk factors and preventing heart failure.
You can live with AFib. While nothing in life is guaranteed, you and your healthcare provider can work together to reduce your risk of stroke and other complications from AFib.
For more detailed information on atrial fibrillation, visit the American Heart Association website. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation
Ann Anderson, FNP has focused on the practice of general cardiology for nearly 20 years. She is a board-certified ANCC family nurse practitioner and is a certified cardiac device specialist with the International Board of Heart Rhythm Examinations. Joining the Kimball Health Services team in 2016, Ann sees family practice patients at the Pine Bluffs Health Clinic and offers cardiology clinics at both the Kimball and Pine Bluffs clinics.
*Chest pain or pressure is a medical emergency. You may be having a heart attack. Call 911 immediately.