What is Atrial Fibrillation?
The heart has four areas, or chambers; two upper chambers known as the “atria”, and two lower chambers known as the “ventricles”. In a normal heart, the two atria listen to electrical signals and pump blood to the ventricles in a synchronized fashion. The ventricles then pump blood to the rest of the body. In atrial fibrillation, these electrical signals are disorganized, causing the atria to beat chaotically, irregularly and often rapidly; the atria will beat out of coordination with the ventricles. Because the atria are beating so rapidly and irregularly, the atria will “quiver” or “fibrillate”, instead of “pumping”. This irregular and fast heart beat can lead to symptoms of palpitations, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, lightheadedness and weakness.
The causes of atrial fibrillation are usually due to conditions that change the structure of the heart overtime, causing it to dilate or enlarge. Some of these conditions include: long standing hypertension, heart attack, leaky valves, and congenital (birth) heart defects. Other times, there is no known cause for atrial fibrillation, and doctors call this “lone atrial fibrillation”.
Atrial fibrillation is diagnosed through an EKG or holter moniter, which records the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG will reveal the loss of a “p-wave”, which is diagnostic of a-fib.
Although atrial fibrillation usually isn’t life threatening, it is considered a medical emergency because of the complications that may arise. Because the atria are quivering instead of effectively pumping, not all of the blood will leave the atria, and more will be left behind. This extra blood may pool in the atria due to sitting there for too long, and may form a “thrombus” or clot. This clot may then clog an artery in the heart causing a heart attack, or it may leave the heart and go to the brain causing a stroke. Therefore, it is important that people with a-fib are monitored regularly and are treated with medications that can help prevent clots, or slow the fast heart rate.
At Heart and Health we pride ourselves to have the commitment to screen, prevent, and treat our patients. Any person with significant risk factors and heart palpitations, increase heart rate, dizziness, should be screened and evaluated in order to prevent these unnecessary complication.