For Your Health
contributed by Joyce Simones, RN
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that occurs when the two upper chambers of your heart (atria) experience chaotic electrical signals.
- Your heart consists of four chambers – two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Within the upper right chamber of your heart (right atrium) is a group of cells called the sinus node. This is your heart’s natural pacemaker. The sinus node produces the impulse that normally starts each heartbeat.
- Normally, the impulse travels first through the atria and then through a connecting pathway between the upper and lower chambers of your heart called the atrioventricular (AV) node. As the signal passes from the sinus node through the atria, they contract, pumping blood from your atria into the ventricles below. As the signal passes through the AV node to the ventricles, it signals the ventricles to contract, pumping blood out to your body.
- In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of your heart (atria) experience chaotic electrical signals. As a result, they quiver. The AV node – the electrical connection between the atria and the ventricles – is bombarded with impulses trying to get through to the ventricles.
- The ventricles also beat rapidly, but not as rapidly as the atria, as not all the impulses get through. The reason is that the AV node is like a highway on-ramp – only so many vehicles can get on at one time.
- The result is a fast and irregular heart rhythm. The heart rate in atrial fibrillation may range from 100 to 175 beats a minute. The normal range for a heart rate is 6- to 100 beats a minute.
Episodes of atrial fibrillation can come and go, or you may develop atrial fibrillation that doesn’t go away and may require treatment.
Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition until it’s discovered during a physical examination. Those who do have atrial fibrillation symptoms may experience sign and symptoms such as:
- Palpitations, which are sensations of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat or a flip-flopping in your chest
If you have symptoms of atrial fibrillation, make an appointment with your doctor. To assist in preventing atrial fibrillation, it’s important to live a heart-healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart disease. A healthy lifestyle may include:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Increasing your physical activity
- Avoid smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- Reducing stress, as instense stress and anger can cause heart rhythm problems
- Using over-the-counter medications with caution as cough medications contain stimnulants that may trigger a rapid heartbeat
Complications of Atrial Fib may be a stroke or heart failure. Medical or Interventional Treatment follows diagnosis with your physician. An Electrocardiogram is the usual first step in diagnosis.