The following describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation. For specific information regarding your health and treatment options, please contact your Hurley physician or medical professional.
What causes atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is generally caused by some form of damage or defect in the heart, which may in turn be caused by any number of diseases or conditions. Structural problems may include congenital (from birth) heart defects or abnormal heart valves, damage due to heart attacks, or complications following heart surgery. Other causes of atrial fibrillation include use of alcohol, tobacco, medications or stimulants such as caffeine; stress; high blood pressure; sleep apnea; viral infections; pneumonia; thyroid problems; or what is known as “sick sinus syndrome,” in which the heart’s own pacemaker begins to function abnormally.
Some people are at greater risk for experiencing atrial fibrillation than others. Older people and individuals with a personal or family history of atrial fibrillation or other heart problems are more likely to experience an irregular heart beat.
What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation vary from person to person, but often include heart palpitations or pain in the chest, a feeling of sudden weakness or tiredness, dizziness, confusion, difficulty breathing. These symptoms may last for only a few minutes, but they can also last for several hours and come and go somewhat randomly.
How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?
Your Hurley cardiologist will focus on determining the underlying cause of your atrial fibrillation. Your physician will likely conduct a number of tests, including echocardiograms, electrocardiograms (EKG or ECG), exercise stress tests, and cardiac catheterization, among others. You may also be asked to wear monitors that can track your heartbeat and blood pressure for up to 24 hours while you are at home.
How is atrial fibrillation treated?
Treatment for atrial fibrillation will depend upon the underlying condition that is causing your heart to beat irregularly, as well as the specific symptoms you are experiencing. Many patients with atrial fibrillation respond well to medications that help re-establish a normal heart rhythm or control it so that it does not beat too fast. Blood thinners may be used to reduce the potential for blood clots.
For more serious atrial fibrillation, or conditions that do not respond to less-aggressive treatment options, surgery may be required. Minimally invasive techniques can be used to insert pacemakers or internal defibrillators near the heart, which can regulate the heartbeat and provide a small electrical shock to “jolt” the heart back into a normal rhythm. During electrophysiology studies, when the physical source of the erratic electrical impulse is identified, ablation may be conducted, a process in which the area causing the problem is destroyed or intentionally damaged while surrounding tissue is left intact and functioning normally. For the most serious cases, more extensive surgery may be recommended.
Your Hurley cardiologist will review these options with you so that, together, you can determine the best course of action.