WHAT IS ATRIAL FIBRILLATION?
Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heartbeat that occurs in the atria of your heart. Doctors and patients sometimes describe atrial fibrillation as a quivering or fluttering type of movement. This is because when atrial fibrillation is occurring, the atria of the heart are not contracting appropriately. Instead, they contract partially and quickly rather than in rhythm with your normal heart rate.
IS ATRIAL FIBRILLATION DANGEROUS?
Atrial fibrillation can be dangerous. The loss of purposeful contraction of the atria creates a “sluggish” flow of blood in the atria which can cause the formation of blood clots. If one of these clots enters the blood stream, it can reach the brain and cause a stroke or other embolic event.
HOW IS ATRIAL FIBRILLATION TREATED?
There are multiple treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation, the most common treatment is medication, but ultimately it is tailored to the individual. In most cases, doctors prescribe blood thinners, which help in the prevention of clot formation and thus decrease the risk of stroke. Medications that slow your heart rate or that help maintain normal rhythm are often included in the treatment plan as well. Lifestyle changes are also in order, such as improving diet, stopping smoking, limiting drinking and increasing exercise.
There are also nonsurgical procedures which can help with atrial fibrillation. These include electrical cardioversion, which is shocking the heart back into a normal rhythm. In certain cases of atrial fibrillation, an ablation procedure may also be an option. Ablation is the insertion of a small catheter into the heart that entails “burning” or “freezing” portions of the atria to try and prevent atrial fibrillation from occurring. The process works because the scarring left behind causes overactive cells to stop sending signals to contract.
CAN I LIVE A NORMAL LIFE WITH ATRIAL FIBRILLATION?
The answer to this question is given on a patient- by-patient case. Each patient with atrial fibrillation is different, and the causes and stresses that your body is under are different and unique. For that reason, it’s impossible to give a definitive answer to this question. However, people who can control atrial fibrillation through medication, diet, or lifestyle change can live a normal life. The best person to answer this question are our doctors, whose plan of care is unique to you. They can evaluate your lifestyle and your symptoms and can develop a plan that helps correct these issues.