Atrial Fibrillation: Causes, Treatments, and Preventions

By: Dr. Sonia Lal Gupta and Dr. Sameer Gupta

An irregular and rapid heart rate that increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart related complications is termed as Atrial Fibrillation. The two upper chambers (the atria) and the two lower chambers (the ventricles) beat chaotically, irregularly, and out of coordination with each other. Albeit, atrial fibrillation isn’t life -threatening, it must be treated with seriousness since it can lead to other fatal conditions.

Causes:

Age & Family: The risk increases as you get older. If your family has a history of atrial fibrillation, chances are you may develop it too.

Heart Disease: Since atrial fibrillation is a condition of the heart, it is no surprise other heart problems can increase its risk.

Some of those are:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Weakened heart muscle
  • Heart birth defects
  • Inflamed membrane or sac around the heart
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Heart attack

Other Health Conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Lung disease
  • An overactive thyroid gland
  • Obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infections caused by a virus

Habits and Lifestyle: An inordinate amount of alcohol can trigger atrial fibrillation. Caffeine, cigarettes, and other drugs can set off atrial fibrillation. Stress and lethargy can also cause an episode of atrial fibrillation.

Symptoms:

The faulty electrical signals make the heart beat faster than it should. The abnormal beating stops the heart from pumping enough blood. It can slow down enough to pool and form clots. This increases the risk of stroke and other heart issues. Along with a fluttering and racing heart, a sharp throbbing pain and pressure in the chest may be felt. Other symptoms include but are not limited to confusion, dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, tiredness, weakness, and fatigue.

Atrial fibrillation can be:

Paroxysmal – lasts for less than 7 days
Persistent – lasts for more than 7 days
Permanent – doesn’t go away

Complications:

Stroke: The chaotic rhythm may cause to blood to collect in the upper chambers of the heart thereby forming clots. If a blood clot forms, it could get dislodged from your heart and travel to the brain blocking the blood flow thereby causing a stroke.

Heart Failure: If left untreated, atrial fibrillation may weaken the heart and lead to heart failure.

Treatments:

A combination of medications, nonsurgical procedures, and surgery can slow the heartbeat and bring it back to a normal rhythm.

Preventions:

A healthy lifestyle is effective in reducing the risks and consequences of atrial fibrillation. These include:

  • Eating a heart healthy diet
  • Increase in physical activity
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • Stress reduction
Dr. Sameer Gupta FACC, FSCAI, Diplomate, National Board of Echocardiography (USA)
Dr. Gupta, awarded the status of “Extraordinary Ability and Achievement” by the United States Government in 2013, is a highly skilled cardiologist specializing in Interventional cardiovascular and peripheral procedures. A native of New Delhi, Dr Gupta spent 10 years in USA to accumulate knowledge, experience & awards returning to India to deliver world-class health care to his country and serve its people.
Dr. Sonia Lal Gupta, MBBS, Diplomate of American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Sonia Lal Gupta MD is a highly qualified Board Certified Neurologist. After completing her MBBS from Government Medical College Patiala, she pursued Neurology at New York Medical College. She graduated in 2011 becoming one of the youngest neurologists in the world at the age of 27.

Image: Rapid atrial fibrillation at a rate of 150. Source/Author: Own work / James Heilman, MD. Date: 15 June 2011. Access the original Image information here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RapidAFib150_(cropped).jpg