We previously discussed on the increasing prevalence of sudden cardiac death cases in recent times. It was highlighted that sudden cardiac death is usually caused by several cardiac related and unrelated diseases, with associated symptoms which could occur rapidly or slowly over a period of time. One of the major causes of sudden cardiac death is a condition popularly referred to as ‘AF’, which is an acronym for ‘ATRIAL FIBRILLATION’.
What is Atrial Fibrillation (AF)?
In normal situations, the heart contracts and relaxes and forms a regular heart beating pattern, resulting in the pump of blood to and from the heart. This complex function is controlled by a special electrical wiring system located within the heart itself. However, in the case of AF, the heart forms an irregular beating pattern usually with a heart rate above 200 bpm. This irregular heart rhythm is called an arrhythmia and can lead to the formation of blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
There are other forms of abnormal heart rhythm disorder however, Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is one of the most common forms of abnormal heart rhythm disorders.
What causes AF to occur?
Several underlying pathology have been linked to the occurrence of AF such as high blood pressure, heart valve disease, and excess alcohol consumption. Interestingly, many patients record no underlying cause, which often leaves them confused and in shock.
How can you identify AF? (Symptoms)
Symptoms of AF have been shown to either slowly progress over time or occur rapidly, taking the sufferer unawares most time. The symptoms often experienced in all cases include;
- Irregular and rapid heartbeat
- Heart palpitations or rapid thumping inside the chest
- Dizziness, sweating and chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath or anxiety
- Tiring more easily when exercising
- Fainting (syncope)
- Palpitation (being aware of your heart beat)
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or feeling faint
However, some people only have mild symptoms, while other people have no symptoms at all.
How can AF be detected and confirmed?
It’s only possible to confirm a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation after an electrocardiogram (ECG) has been carried out. An ECG is a diagnostic test that records the rhythm and electrical activity of your heart.
Treatment for AF?
The first step your health professional would aim to carry out is to try to find the cause of the atrial fibrillation.
If no underlying cause is discovered then a series of other treatment plan would be suggested as appropriate, including;
- Use of medicines to help return your heart rate to a normal rhythm.
- Medicines to help slow your heart rate.
- Blood thinners to avoid the formation of blood clots
Electrical cardio-version (an electric shock) to return the regular heart beat
Surgery, is often the last resort. where implanting a pacemaker or other procedures may be needed.
AF is a serious and life threatening disorder which requires urgent and timely medical care. If you or a loved one experiences the symptoms highlighted above, do not hesitate to contact your nearest healthcare professional or go to the accident and emergency unit closest to you.