Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation | Syncope | Sudden Cardiac Death

Afib

Afib is the most common kind of arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythm. It is a progressive, chronic condition that may get worse without treatment but can be treated effectively. Afib affects approximately 350,000 Canadians.

Atrial refers to the top two chambers of the heart, known as the atria. The atria are designed to send blood efficiently and rhythmically into the ventricles by way of regular electrical signals. The ventricles then pump the blood to the rest of the body.  In Afib, the electrical signals are rapid, irregular and disorganized and the heart may not pump efficiently. Afib increases the risk of stroke significantly.

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Causes

Often the cause is not known, but Afib is more common in older people. Other risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal structure of the heart
  • Infection or inflammation of the heart
  • Heart valve disease
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Other heart rhythm problems
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Blood clot in the lung
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Serious illness or infection
  • Prior open-heart surgery

Diagnosing

Some people with Afib feel perfectly fine and may not even know they have the condition until they have a routine electrocardiogram. Others experience symptoms such as:

  • Irregular and fast heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest discomfort, pain or pressure
  • Feeling very tired
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion or anxiety
  • Fatigue, dizziness, sweating or nausea
  • Light-headedness or fainting
  • Urinating more

If your pulse is fast and your heartbeat irregular, your doctor may have you checked for Afib. The process may include:

  • Taking a thorough medical history, to identify risk factors, family members with Afib, etc.
  • Electrocardiogram to record the electrical activity of your heart
  • Echocardiogram to create a moving picture of your heart and see how strongly your heart is pumping
  • Holter monitor to record your heart rhythm for several days
  • Event monitor to record your heart rhythm when you notice symptoms
  • Implantable loop recorder to record the heart’s activity for up to three years
  • Blood tests to rule out thyroid disease or other problems
  • Treadmill test to see your heart’s electrical activity during exercise
  • Sleep study to see if you have sleep apnea
  • Myocardial perfusion scan to look for blockages in the coronary arteries

Treatments

You can live a long, healthy life if your Afib is well managed. Be sure to see your doctor regularly.

What you can do:

  • Choose a diet low in trans fats and include plenty of vegetables, fruit, fibre and lean protein
  • Stop smoking 
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Reduce stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay physically active
  • Monitor your blood pressure 

What your doctor may do:

  • Prescribe blood thinners to reduce the risk of stroke
  • Prescribe medications to control heat rate and heart rhythm 
  • Administer a controlled electric shock to the heart (called electrical cardoversion) to restore normal rhythm
  • Order a pacemaker to be implanted
  • Order a procedure (electrophysiology study) to locate the cause of the irregular electrical impulses in the heart and then burn away (catheter ablation) the tissue causing the problem 

How to get involved

Contact us if you are interested in becoming involved in arrhythmia research and you fit the following criteria:
– Have significant experience of living with an arrhythmia
– Are in a period of stable health
– Have a constructive critical attitude and a certain distance from your own story
– Are willing to help people by working with both patients and health professionals and researchers

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