Senior woman experiencing chest pain from a heart condition or Atrial Fibrillation.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib): Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatments

January 8, 2018 | BY BIOTRICITY

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AF or AFib, is one of the most prevalent heart rhythm disorders today. According to a 2014 Journal of the American College of Cardiology study, anywhere between 2.7 and 6.1 million U.S. citizens are living with AFib—the reason for this widespread prevalence? AFib is one of the most common types of abnormal heart rhythms, or heart arrhythmias, which is an electrical disturbance in the heart. Atrial Fibrillation is also notoriously difficult to detect. It is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can lead to heart-related complications like stroke and heart failure. Knowing the signs, symptoms, and treatment of AFib could assist in early detection and possibly save your life.

Causes

Generally, atrial fibrillation is caused by a variety of possible damages to the heart, as such there are several ways that Atrial fibrillation can manifest. Sometimes AFib begins as a less severe heart arrhythmia called atrial flutter which develops into AFib. Some people can develop AFib because of high blood pressure, a heart attack, previous heart surgeries, a co-morbid condition like coronary artery disease or even sleep apnea. AFib can also be caused by undue stress, being overweight, smoking, heavy alcohol use and taking some medications. Finally, some people are born with abnormalities that cause AFib. While those over the age of 60 are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, any person, ranging from children to adults, can develop AFib depending on their lifestyle, general health, and genetics.

Symptoms

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath; in addition, many people report a “fluttering” or “thumping” feeling in their chest when experiencing an atrial fibrillation occurrence. What makes AFib so hard to detect and diagnose is that some people have no symptoms at all and AFib occurs sporadically, which makes it difficult to detect in one visit, blood pressure test, or ECG. As a result, many people with AFib are unaware of their condition until their physician discovers it by chance.

For this reason, many physicians prescribe a Holter or Event monitor to detect irregular heartbeats in patients over 60, with a history of arrhythmia, or who have experienced the symptoms of an arrhythmia. Unfortunately for patients, many healthcare facilities use Holter and Event Loop monitoring systems that lack wireless capabilities. Without wireless the data that the Holter or Event collects cannot be compiled and analyzed until it is returned to the physician, slowing the diagnostic process. Biotricity has developed Bioflux, a remote cardiac monitoring device that detects arrhythmias and can transmit data to a 24-hour monitoring center. It can enable physicians to have continuous access to the real-time heart rhythm data and can potentially speed up the diagnostic process, lowering patient risk and hospital readmissions.

Treatment

Every patient is different, and each case of atrial fibrillation is too. Treatment differs depending on severity and length of the AFib, patient age, and the patients’ medical history. Some will be prescribed medications. Others may undergo catheter ablation, a nonsurgical procedure that uses radiofrequency to destroy a small area of heart tissue that is causing irregular and fast beats to help reset the “normal rhythm” of the heart.

Prevention

A heart healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation. Gaining control over your blood pressure through diet (eat foods high in fiber and low in salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats). Management of stress is important because it can lead to hypertension which in turn could cause AFib. Exercise, meditation, and yoga are all great ways to reduce stress. Further in the lifestyle vein, avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco could also help reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation. Finally: monitor your heart by checking your blood pressure regularly—particularly if you are at risk—and make sure to ask your doctor about any concerns that you might have regarding your heart health.