Understanding the symptoms of atrial fibrillation


The human heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute on average, which equates to between 86,400 and 144,000 beats per day. Over the course of a lifetime, an individual’s heart may beat more than two billion times.
A fully functional heart is like a well-oiled machine. However, various conditions can affect the heart and its ability to function at peak capacity. Individuals with an irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia, may experience a common condition known as atrial fibrillation. To understand what atrial fibrillation, often referred to as “Afib,” entails, it helps to learn how a healthy heart works.

The Cleveland Clinic says when the heart is working properly it pumps blood to the body with a normal heart rhythm. The two upper chambers of the heart (atria) contract, followed by the two lower chambers (ventricles). When timed perfectly, the beats allow for efficient pumping of blood. The electrical impulse that guides the heart’s pumping action is located in the sinoatrial (SA) node in the right atrium. That impulse causes the left and right atria to contract and force blood into the ventricles. Afterward, the electrical impulse travels into the atrioventricular node (AN) located near the middle of the heart.

During Afib, the SA node doesn’t direct the electrical rhythm and many other impulses may fire at once. The American Heart Association says this causes the atria to beat irregularly and quiver. The atria then beat chaotically and not in coordination with the ventricles.
While not typically life-threatening, Afib can cause shortness of breath, light-headedness and may increase the risk of heart-related complications, according to the Mayo Clinic. The American Heart Association says Afib may lead to blood clots from blood not pumping efficiently. Should a clot break off and enter the bloodstream, it could lodge in an artery leading to the brain, resulting in stroke. Roughly 15 to 20 percent of people who have strokes have Afib, and this is why many people with this type of arrythmia are placed on blood thinners.

Awareness of Afib symptoms is imperative since it is such a serious condition. People should visit their doctors if they experience any of the following:

• Extreme fatigue
• Irregular heartbeat
• Chest pain
• Light-headedness
• Rapid, fluttering or pounding heart palpitations
• Shortness of breath

Individuals who are at higher risk for Afib include seniors and people who have been diagnosed with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or hyperthyroidism. Smoking and moderate to heavy alcohol use also increase the risk for Afib. A doctor can assess risk factors for Afib and educate patients about reducing their risk.

Atrial fibrillation is a common health concern that affects the beating of the heart and efficient pumping of blood throughout the body. People who suspect they have Afib are urged to contact their physicians immediately.

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