What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF, is a heart rhythm disorder caused when the electrical activity of your heart's atria (its upper chambers) become unpredictable and out of rhythm with your heart's ventricles (its lower chambers) for a variety of reasons. Usually, this leads to a faster-than-normal heartbeat although it can also produce, in some cases, a slower-than-safe heartbeat. This arrhythmias can make you feel faint, dizzy, or excessively tired due to heart strain. Not only this, inconsistent electrical activity in the heart can also reduce blood flow to the point of coagulation which puts patients with AFib at a greater risk of stroke or other serious thrombosis-induced emergencies in any organ in the body.
How Common is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder, affecting approximately 1% of the total population. This percentage increases significantly with age, though, with around 5% of the adult population over 65 years old having been diagnosed with Afib and 10% of 80+ year olds suffering from the condition. Although age is the biggest indicator of your risk for having or developing Atrial Fibrillation, other significant risk factors include a medical history of congenital heart disease or other valvular, coronary artery, or structural heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), sleep apnoea, rheumatic fever (Strep Throat), or viral or bacterial infections. Elevated or prolonged alcohol consumption and/or high or on-going stress in your daily life can also contribute to the development or intensity of Atrial Fibrillation.
How is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?
Heart palpitations, dizzy spells, unexplained tiredness, or shortness of breath are all common indicators of potential Atrial Fibrillation. The feeling of 'butterflies in your stomach' is also regularly described by people who have later been diagnosed with Afib. Know, too, that it's also relatively common to develop Afib but experience no symptoms.
Whether Afib is directly suspected due to your symptoms or incidentally found during a routine check-up, your cardiologist can confirm the diagnosis with a simple ECG (electrocardiogram) exam that evaluates both the structure and the function of your heart. Or, if your Afib episodes come and go, a relatively common occurrence, you may be asked to wear a heart monitor for a day or more to measure the frequency and intensity of your Afib episodes. Keep in mind, too, that Atrial Fibrillation is itself both a condition and a symptom so in either case once Atrial Fibrillation is diagnosed, your cardiologist will likely request additional exams or blood tests to determine the cause of it.
How is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?
The most important aspect of treating Atrial Fibrillation is assessing your risk for serious complications because of it. In some cases, although Afib is present it produces no significant risk in your day-to-day life and merely requires watchful waiting to monitor its progression or intensity, if any. Other patients with an Afib diagnosis can reduce their risk of developing a dangerous blood clot with blood thinning medication. Another option is chemical or electrical cardioversion, which attempts to get your heartbeat back to a consistent rhythm using medication (chemical cardioversion) or a one-time electrical stimulation using paddles (electrical cardioversion) while you're sedated. And a final option to treat Atrial Fibrillation is Cryoablation therapy or Radiofrequency ablation therapy which involves threading a balloon catheter through the body (usually from the upper leg) to the entrance of the pulmonary vein where either an intensely cold gas (Cryoablation) or radiofrequency waves (Radiofrequency ablation) are then used directly on the cells causing your Afib to kill them, thus restoring a normal heart rhythm to your body.
Learn more about the ins and outs of Atrial Fibrillation on the CardioCare website: Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosis & Treatments Marbella (cardiocaremarbella.com)
When Should I See A Doctor About Possible Afib?
Because of its often minor, unpredictable, or even undetectable (or even non-existent) symptoms, Afib is not often suspected by patients who have minor or even serious Atrial Fibrillation. It's important, then, to speak with a cardiologist should you have any symptoms, no matter how minor, and get regular preventative cardio check-ups, especially if you are older or have any other Afib risk factors. At the CardioCare international heart and vascular centre in Marbella, we offer a range of preventative check-ups based on your needs to diagnose any cardiovascular condition, including Atrial Fibrillation. What's more, our internationally-trained expert cardiologists and specialists can offer a range of treatment options to meet your particular needs using only state-of-the-art technology to offer the highest possible rates of success.
Please remember that no matter your age, medical history, or pre-existing conditions (or lack thereof), we always stress that prevention is always preferred to treatment, so if you're at all concerned about your cardiovascular health, we invite you to book an appointment with us to discuss and assess your heart health.