Friday, July 15, 2016

Atrial Fibrillation

Your heart is obviously very vital to your well-being.  It constantly beats in order to supply your entire body with the blood and nutrients it needs in order to meet its demands, which allow you to function properly.  If at any time the function of your heart becomes compromised, several harmful conditions could occur that may affect your overall health.  Although it is very common, atrial fibrillation is an example of a problem that may compromise the functioning of your heart, which may put your health at risk.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rate that can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.  During atrial fibrillation, the two upper chambers of your heart (the atria) beat irregular and in chaos…this means that they are out of sync with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of your heart.  Keep in mind that in a heart that is functioning normal, both the upper and lower chambers of the heart beat in sync in order to maintain balance.  Individuals who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation generally will complain of heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.

Episodes of atrial fibrillation may come and go, or you may develop this condition and it may not go away at all – which will require more complex and lifelong treatment.  On a good note, atrial fibrillation itself most generally is not life-threatening if it is taken seriously and treated.  However, if ignored it may require skilled, emergency treatment.  For example, this condition may lead to formation of blood clots in the heart that may dislodge, enter circulation and end up in other organs in your body.  Blood clots have the potential to block blood flow to vital areas, which could easily result in life-threatening complications…such as in the lungs, heart and/or brain.

The symptoms of atrial fibrillation may or may not be noticed by the individual who has the condition.  Some people have no symptoms and are completely unaware of their condition until it is discovered during a medical examination.  Those people who do have symptoms may experience the following:

Ø  Palpitations (sensations of flip-flopping in your chest from an irregular heartbeat)
Ø  Weakness
Ø  Fatigue
Ø  Decreased tolerance to exercise
Ø  Feeling lightheaded
Ø  Dizziness
Ø  Confusion
Ø  Shortness of breath
Ø  Chest pain

Types of atrial fibrillation include the following:

Ø  Occasional.  This is medically referred to as “paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.”  With this type you may have symptoms that come and go that last for a few minutes to a few hours and then stop on their own.
Ø  Persistent.  With this type, your heart rhythm doesn’t go back to normal on its own.  If you have persistent atrial fibrillation, you will require treatment such as cardioversion (an electrical shock) or medications that will work to restore your heart rhythm.

Ø  Long-standing persistent.  This type of atrial fibrillation is continuous and lasts longer than 12 months.

Ø  Permanent.  With this type of atrial fibrillation, the abnormal heart rhythm cannot be restored.  You will require medications to control your heart rate.

If you or your loved one start to notice any of the symptoms as mentioned above, do not hesitate to make an appointment with your medical provider also bring it to their attention.  In order to diagnose you, your medical provider may order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to determine if your symptoms are related to atrial fibrillation or another heart rhythm disorder. 

If you like facts, the heart rate in atrial fibrillation may range from 100 to 175 beats per minute.  Remember though, the normal range for a heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute.  You may be wondering, “Well what causes atrial fibrillation?”  The best answer to that question is abnormalities or damage to the structure of the heart, which are the most common causes.  There are various conditions and situations that may cause abnormalities and damage to the heart, including:

Ø  High blood pressure (hypertension)
Ø  Heart attacks
Ø  Coronary artery disease
Ø  Abnormal heart valves
Ø  Congenital heart defects (those you’re born with)
Ø  Overactive thyroid or other metabolic imbalance
Ø  Caffeine, tobacco or alcohol
Ø  Lung diseases
Ø  Previous heart surgery
Ø  Viral infections
Ø  Stress from pneumonia, surgery or other illnesses
Ø  Sleep apnea (cessation of breathing episodes during sleep)

Of course as with any other medical condition there are factors that place you more at risk.  For atrial fibrillation, these risk factors may include:

Ø  Age.  Risk of developing this condition increase with age.
Ø  Heart disease.  Anyone with a history of heart disease is at an increased risk.
Ø  High blood pressure.  This places more stress on the heart, which can increase your risk.
Ø  Other chronic conditions.  Diabetes, sleep apnea, chronic kidney disease, etc.
Ø  Alcohol.  Consumption of alcohol may trigger an episode(s) of atrial fibrillation.
Ø  Obesity.  Being overweight increases the stress put on your heart, so your risk increases.
Ø  Family history.  If this condition runs in your family, you will be more at risk to have it.

As mentioned earlier, an electrocardiogram (ECG) is the primary test for diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.  There are also other ways to detect this condition and your medical provider will choose how he or she would like to test you in order to formulate a diagnosis.  For example, blood tests may be completed in order to rule out other problems first, a stress test may be completed in order to check up on your heart while it is being exerted, and a chest x-ray may be done to allow your provider to take a peek inside your chest to check the condition of your heart and lungs, which could possibly explain your signs and symptoms. 

Once you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, treatment that is most appropriate for you will depend upon how extensive your symptoms are and what the underlying cause of the condition is.  Most often the goals of treatment are to reset your heart rhythm, control your heart rate and prevent formation of blood clots.  Surely you have heard of people being on “blood thinners.”  Blood thinners obviously work to thin the blood to prevent formation of blood clots that could be harmful to your health.  Most often, individuals diagnosed with atrial fibrillation generally have to take blood thinners frequently to manage the condition.  Also, you may be prescribed an anti-arrhythmic medication in order to keep your heart in a normal rhythm to prevent future episodes of atrial fibrillation.

Always do your best to keep an open mind for treatment.  If resetting your heart rhythm and managing it with medications does not get the job done, your provider will decide what is next and thoroughly discuss your options with you.  With Total Home Health you will not be alone in your journey.  We have a program that is right for you and our professionals will work diligently by your side to provide you with the best care to promote your health and prevent episodes of atrial fibrillation and its complications.  Total Home Health is more than happy to have your health in our hands; because once it’s there we know it will be taken care of!

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