What causes atrial fibrillation?

Both men and women may suffer from A-fib. As you age, the causes of the disease increase in commonality. Common causes include:

  •  Alcohol consumption
  •  Coronary artery disease
  •  Heart attacks or heart failure
  •  Heart valve disease
  •  High blood pressure
  •  Certain medications

What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

One of the dangers of atrial fibrillation is that symptoms can be non-existent or they may come and go. The most commonly reported symptoms are:

  •  Heart palpitations (the feeling your heart is fluttering or beating too hard or too fast)
  •  A racing pulse
  •  Fainting
  •  Shortness of breath
  •  Fatigue and weakness
  •  Feeling pauses between heartbeats

How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?

During a physical exam your doctor will listen to your heartbeat and take your pulse. If either is elevated your doctor will let you know. A normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Someone suffering with atrial fibrillation will have a heart rate between 100 and 175 beats per minute.
If your doctor suspects you may have A-fib you will most likely undergo an ECG. This is a non-invasive test that records your heart’s electrical activity. Additionally, your doctor may ask you to wear a holter monitor (a small device with electrodes that stick to your chest and monitor your heart over a 24-hour period) and an event monitor (similar to the holter except you wear it over a 2 week period to monitor your heartbeat at various times and stressors the day).

How is atrial fibrillation treated?

The goal in treating atrial fibrillation is to get the heartbeat back to normal. This is done through cardioversion treatment. This treatment has two options:

  •  Electrical shocks to the heart
  •  Intravenous drugs
  •  Catheter ablation

Options can be done if atrial fibrillation is diagnosed or in an emergency.

Smoking is a major risk for several diseases including heart disease, stroke, and several cancers. Even low-tar cigarettes and light smoking can increase the risk of heart disease substantially. There are now several alternative approaches to helping people stop smoking. These include nicotine-replacement patches and gum as well as oral medication.

If you are able to stop smoking, your risk of a heart attack or stroke decreases within a few weeks. The risk goes down to that of a nonsmoker within about 2 years. In addition, a lot of patients comment that they feel healthier and have more energy after they've stopped smoking.

Hypothyroidism can increase blood cholesterol levels and that contributes to heart disease; however, if the hypothyroidism is being treated with a thyroid hormone, then the cholesterol returns to normal.

Birth control pills can cause a small increase in the risk of thrombosis and heart attack. That occurs mainly in people who have been on the pill for more than 10 years and who smoke cigarettes.

There is an increase in the risk of heart attack if a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has had a heart attack or stroke. That is mainly seen when the relative has had a heart attack before the age of 45 if they are male, 55 if they are female. Obviously, you cannot change your family history, but a positive history should suggest the need to improve all the other risk factors like stopping smoking and decreasing cholesterol.

Heart disease is potentially reversible by attending to risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking. Several studies have shown, for example, that aggressive lowering of blood cholesterol with LDL levels below 100 can open up blocked coronary arteries at least partially. Perhaps I should explain that LDL cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol component.

I would suggest a diet that is balanced among all the main food groups, with fat content making up no more than 30 percent of calories and most of that fat being unsaturated. I would not advise patients to eat a diet that is restricted in carbohydrates or fruits and vegetables, because this may adversely affect vitamin intake and blood cholesterol.

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