Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a type of arrhythmia (irregular and typically fast heartbeat) that can cause blood clots in the heart. Stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related problems are all increased by A-fib.
Atrial fibrillation is a condition that appears to strike quite a bit of fear when a person has the diagnosis. It is always the same, it generally appears that as soon as somebody’s heart plays up they appear to fear something very ominous is going to happen. There are many different things which can potentially affect you heart, particularly its beating, pulse rate and the ability to function well as a pump very well. I wrote this page to explain about atrial fibrillation, one of the more common reasons your heart may “play up” and make you feel that something is not quite right. If you do have arrhythmia, after reading this page I want you to realise that you have nothing to fear, and how fear itself will only contribute to to atrial fibrillation itself.
Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is the most common type of irregular beating of the heart you will experience. It is also called arrhythmia, which is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm and this can cause you to feel that there is “something not right” when your heart beats at times. This may be a bit worse when you lay down or at rest and you could well more notice this when you go to bed or wake up for some, for others it is after they have exerted themselves and it appears to take quite a while or more than usual for the heart to get to a steady slow rhythm again.
Atrial Fibrillation may happen rarely or every now and then, or it may become an ongoing or long-term heart problem that lasts for years and the amazing thing is that some people who have AF may not even feel symptoms. However, even when AF isn’t noticed, it can increase the risk of stroke and in some people, AF can cause chest pain or even heart failure, especially if the heart rhythm is very rapid.
There are no hard or fast rules with this condition, every patient I have seen with AF seems to experience their condition different from others. Their AF may be brief, with symptoms that come and go and end on their own. or the it may be ongoing and require treatment. At rare times, AF is sometimes permanent, and even the doctors drugs and surgery may not be able to restore a normal heart rhythm. For the most part however, people who have AF can live normal, active lives. For some people, natural medicine treatment can successfully restore normal heart rhythms. For others who have a more severe and permanent form of AF, treatment can help control symptoms and prevent complications. An effective treatment may include medicines (prescribed or natural) and lifestyle changes.
A healthy person with a heart in top shape will have a slow, deep and regular pulse rate which can be anywhere optimally from 40 beats up to 70 beats per minute. When you have arrhythmia, your pulse rate may vary a lot more than usual and it may feel like your heart is racing at times and slow and irregular at other times. With AF, the heart can beat at very fast rates which can be quite scary for some folk. You probably won’t really notice arrhythmia (or you pulse/hear rate for that matter) when when you exert yourself or exercise. It is when you rest that it becomes more noticeable for many.
I like to think of atrial fibrillation as irregular power surges in a person. Yes, your heart does start up and maintain a steady rhythm because of a tiny electrical discharge. Let’s explain what happens to make your heart beat and to keep it beating:
1. – This tiny regular electrical signal starts in a group of cells called the sino-atrial (SA) node. The SA node is found at the top of the right side of your heart. (the right atrium)
Your SA node is very regular and reliable, and when you are happy and healthy your SA node sends out a steady 50 up to 100 times every single minute.
2 – From the SA node, this tiny electrical spark l travels from the top of the right side of your heart to the left side. (from the right and left atria). This electrical activity at the top of the hear causes both of these top chambers and this pumps blood into the two bottom chambers of your heart – the ventricles.
3 – The electrical signal then shifts to a group of cells called the atrio-ventricular (AV) node. This tiny node is located between the top and bottom chambers – the atria and ventricles. From here on, the electrical activity reduces quite a bit, allowing the ventricles time to finish filling with blood.
4 – The electrical signal then leaves the AV node and travels to the ventricles. It causes the ventricles to contract and pump blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.
5 – The ventricles then relax, and the heartbeat process starts all over again in the SA node. When things aren’t all that well and you feel unhappy, stressed, angry and maybe depressed your SA node will become more unreliable and speed up at times and slow right down at others. I have found that stress has a major effect on the heart, especially the heart’s electrical activity.
Atrial fibrillation is not that difficult to explain, it occurs if rapid, disorganised electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers to “fibrillate”. The term “fibrillate” basically means to contract very fast and irregularly. In AF, blood pools in the atria (the upper chambers) of the heart and isn’t pumped completely into the heart’s two lower chambers, the ventricles. As a result, the heart’s upper and lower chambers don’t work together in a coordinated fashion as they should and this is what causes the problem. In fact, the ventricles may even beat as much as 100 to 175 times a minute, compared to the normal heart rate of between 60 to 100 beats a minute.
Atrial fibrillation may occur without evidence of underlying heart disease, and what I find interesting in many cases is that AF (just like high blood pressure) has “no known cause” according to the medical profession. This condition appears to be more common in younger people, about half of whom have no other heart problems. As I mentioned earlier, AF occurs if the heart’s electrical signals don’t travel through the heart in a normal way and instead become very rapid and disorganised. It is the damage to the actual heart’s electrical system which causes the AF, and this damage is at times the result of other conditions that affect the health of the heart, such as high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. The risk of AF increases as you age, and inflammation is thought to play a role in causing AF.
Phil was a most interesting case (not his real name). This man runs a very successful NZ company and is the managing director in charge of several hundred staff in Auckland. His company has amassed literally a fortune over the years but at a huge personal cost, Phil has been married and divorced twice and declared bankrupt only a few years ago but managed to climb back to the top of his game. Phil would have to be one of the most anxious, irritable and stressed patients I have encountered in over twenty years of practice. He couldn’t even sit down for five minutes during his consultation with me and appeared very impatient and irritable as he paced the floor continually, answering his mobile phone.
Phil began to tell me that he had been to France twice for an operation (over 200K NZ dollars a time) to his heart in order to resolve his atrial fibrillation. Phil mentioned that it was “all a waste of time” because he still suffered from a very irregular heartbeat at times which was literally driving him to despair. This driven man really believed that his AF could be easily resolved with an operation and that he could go back to his regular (and highly stressed) lifestyle as if nothing had ever happened. I only ever say Phil once, he left my room in disbelief and with some urgency and I’ve wondered at times what ever became of him, and whether he is even still alive. The incredible thing is that if Phil learned to relax properly and developed more of a balance between work and play (and started to understand the connection between mind-body connection more) then there would be no more need for expensive and time-wasting operations. His condition would have resolved all by itself.
Now you will be thinking: “How could Eric know that”, well I can tell you right now, it’s not that difficult to connect a person’s chronic health complaint with the way they think and behave, and the way Phil was behaving I was quite surprised that he even made it to sixty three years of age. You don’t need a medical degree nor a crystal ball to see into the future for patients like Phil, you just need an ounce of common sense to understand that nobody gets away with living like that for too long without some major health problem coming their way. And in Phil’s case it was his heart, making me wonder how happy he really was in life. Some people just throw themselves into their work when they are unhappy, others will eat food and yet others will have addictions such as booze or gambling.
I’m not suggesting that all cases of AF are as a result of living a highly stressed lifestyle, but from the several cases I have seen over the years I could safely say that about half are as a result of a highly strung individual living their life on a razor’s edge. My wife’s girlfriend Shirley (not her real name) is another example of AF induced by stress. Shirley separated from her husband and is undergoing a divorce at present. Her husband left her due to her obsession and extreme competitiveness with her business. She ended up in the emergency ward only a few weeks ago with major arrhythmia after she received a lawyer’s letter outlining the terms of their separation. Her doctor recently diagnosed Shirley as having atrial fibrillation and recommended drugs.
There are basically 3 different types of AF, some cases last only a short period of time and then resolve. Other AF cases are more persistent in nature and can hang around for awhile whilst other cases are permanent and severe.
Men are more at risk than women, and AF is an uncommon condition in children. This condition affects millions of people worldwide, and the risk of getting AF increases as you age which is is mostly because your risk for heart disease and other conditions that can cause AF also increases as you get older. Nevertheless, about half of the people who have AF are younger than 75.
Just like any other condition, some people are more at risk than others. Here is a list of the common AF risk factors:
Because atrial fibrillation is the most common heart beat irregularity that is usually found in people, it has been widely studied as you can imagine. Researchers from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, USA, made a study and found that the risk of this heart beat irregularity can be predicted by measuring the oxidative stress levels. But what is oxidative stress you ask? Interestingly, researchers have found a new link between oxidative stress and enlargement of the heart’s left atrium, and this is important news because it is the left atrium which is the main cause of occurrence of atrial fibrillation.
Cardiology Researchers Dr. Nima Ghasemzadeh along with Dr. Arshed Quyyumi, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Emory Cardiovascular Research Institute, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, studied 629 patients on average under the age group of 63, undergoing cardiac catheterisation at Emory for three years and found that the risk of atrial fibrillation increases with age, and approx 3%-5% people over 65 suffer from atrial fibrillation.
Doctors rely on cholesterol as the main driver behind heart disease. Professor Quyyumi speaks about a real underlying vascular abnormality – higher cysteine levels, which is completely ignored by the mainstream.
The signs and symptoms of AF can be quite subtle for many years and then pick up in intensity.This can lead to signs and symptoms, such as:
AF has two major complications—stroke and heart failure.
Stroke – During AF, the heart’s upper chambers, the atria, don’t pump all of their blood to the ventricles (the bottom chambers). Some blood pools in the atria. When this happens, a blood clot (called a thrombus) can form. Clots which break off and travel to the brain cause a stroke. (clots that form in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body are called an embolus.) Blood-thinning drugs that reduce the risk of stroke such as Warfarin are an important part of treatment for people who have AF, although there are natural medicines such as Nattokinase and Omega 3 which also work.
The illustration shows how a stroke can occur during atrial fibrillation. A blood clot can form in the left atrium of the heart and if a piece of the clot breaks off and travels to an artery in the brain, it can block blood flow through the artery causing a stroke to occur. The stroke comes about by way of the lack of blood flow to a specific part of the brain which starves that brain tissue of oxygen, which then dies.
Heart Failure – It is important to remember that your heart is a big mechanical pump, and when this pump fails and it can’t pump enough blood to supply your body’s demands, heart failure occurs. AF may lead to heart failure because the ventricles are beating very fast and can’t completely fill with blood. Thus, they may not be able to pump enough blood through to the lungs and body.
Some of the most common symptoms of heart failure are fatigue and shortness of breath, and these symptoms are primarily caused due to a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Oedema (fluid retention) is also common, fluid also can build up in the feet, ankles, and legs, causing puffiness and weight gain. The main way the heart failure is treated is by way of lifestyle changes, drugs, and procedures or surgery although more rarely, a mechanical heart pump or heart transplant may be used. treatment plan without interference.
Like most other health complaints, your health-care professional will (or should) take a detailed case history. Most medical doctors (and a few naturopaths) will do this by default, but if you are not happy with your consultation you may want a second (or third, etc) opinion. It is YOUR body so don’t be satisfied with an explanation by your practitioner such as “i think you have indigestion” when you know that there is something a lot more serious going on. You would be surprised how many times I have seen a patient who was brushed off with a very simplistic explanation of their signs and symptoms by all types of health-care providers. Some patients have been to dozens of practitioners with little joy as to why they are feeling the way they do. Occasionally they get referred to a specialist, but this certainly not always the case.
Sometimes AF is “a-symptomatic”, which means that it doesn’t cause signs or symptoms. At times AF may even be found during a physical exam or EKG (electrocardiogram) test done for another reason. If you have AF, you will almost certainly want to know the cause, because this will help you plan not only the best way to treat the condition, but hopefully to avoid any further episodes in future.
Some types of heart problems are easier to diagnose when your heart is working hard and beating fast, like during a work-out or when you exercise. During “stress testing”, you exercise on a treadmill generally to make your heart work hard and beat fast while heart tests are being completed. For those who can’t exercise, they are generally given a drug to make their heart work faster an harder.
Echocardiography (echo) uses sound waves to create a moving picture of your heart. The accurate test will show the size and shape of your heart and how well your heart chambers and valves are working together in coordination.
An ECG can also can identify areas around your heart responsible for poor blood flow, various areas of heart muscle that aren’t contracting normally, and any previous injury to your heart muscle caused by poor blood flow.
Personally, I’m not a fan of radiation exposure, but a chest x ray is a painless test that creates pictures of the structures in your chest, such as your heart and lungs. This test can show fluid buildup in the lungs and signs of other AF complications.
Blood tests check the level of thyroid hormone in your body and the balance of your body’s electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium and sodium. Electrolytes are minerals that help maintain fluid levels and the all crucial acid/alkaline balance in the body. These minerals are absolutely essential for normal health and functioning of your body’s cells and organs.
The treatment for atrial fibrillation (AF) depends on how often you have symptoms, how severe they are, and whether or not you already have heart disease. The general treatment of AF includes pharmaceutical drugs, various medical procedures, and lifestyle changes. The goals of treating AF generally include:
People who have AF but don’t have symptoms or related heart problems may not necessarily need treatment. In some cases, AF may even go back to a normal heart rhythm on its own, which can also can occur in people who have AF with symptoms. In some people who have AF for the first time, the treatment may even include the use of a defibrillator (an electrical procedure) to restore a normal heart rhythm. If a person has repeated episodes of AF, it tends to cause changes to the heart’s electrical system leading to persistent or permanent And most all people who have persistent or permanent AF will need treatment to control their heart rate and prevent complications.
You may be told that your only treatment option with AF is drugs or surgery, probably like you will told this when it comes to any condition affecting your heart or circulation. This is not true, there are many different treatment options available to you if you have heart or circulation issues.
Following a healthy lifestyle and taking steps to lower your risk for heart disease may help you prevent atrial fibrillation (AF). These steps include:
If you already have heart disease or other AF risk factors, work with your doctor to manage your condition. In addition to adopting the healthy habits above, which can help control heart disease, your doctor may advise you to: