The Complete AFib Treatment Guide : Somewhere between 2.7 and 6.1 million people struggle with atrial fibrillation each year. Women, in particular, are more likely to experience this issue.
Have you been wondering if you have a heart condition like atrial fibrillation (or AFib)? Do you suspect that someone you love is dealing with it? Either way, keep reading.
Explained below is everything you need to know about atrial fibrillation diagnosis, as well as AFib treatment and prevention.
The Complete AFib Treatment Guide
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia (or irregular heartbeat).
It occurs when the beating of the upper chambers of a person’s heart (known as the atria) is irregular. This causes the blood to flow in a less optimal way down to the lower chambers of the heart (known as the ventricles).
Sometimes, AFib is brief and temporary, but it can also occur on a more permanent basis.
Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms
If someone has atrial fibrillation, they will likely experience a variety of symptoms, including the following:
- An irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Atrial fibrillation also increases one’s likelihood of having a stroke.
What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?
It’s not always clear what causes atrial fibrillation. It can sometimes come on as a result of other health conditions, though, including these:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- Congenital heart defects
- Heart valve abnormalities
- Overactive thyroid
- Prolonged stimulant exposure (caffeine, tobacco, medications, etc.)
- Lung disease
- A previous heart surgery
- Viral infections
- Sleep apnea
Sick sinus syndrome, which affects the heart’s natural pacemaker, can also cause AFib in some people.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Physicians use a variety of tests to diagnose AFib. Some of the most common options include an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram. They may also ask you to track your heart’s activity using a Holder monitor (a type of portable electrocardiogram) or event recorder. Blood tests and stress tests might be useful as well to rule out other conditions and determine the cause of AFib.
Afib Treatment Options
Many people feel anxious when they learn that they are experiencing atrial fibrillation, and it’s not surprising. After all, this condition has the potential to cause some serious health problems.
Luckily, there are treatments available. Everyone’s AFib treatment plan will look a bit different, of course. In general, though, it often includes the following guidelines:
Heart Rhythm Reset
One of the first steps involved in treating AFib is to reset the heart rhythm. There are two ways a doctor can do this:
- Electrical cardioversion: This involves the delivery of an electrical shock to the heart, which stops and the heartbeat and then, hopefully, resets it to its natural rhythm (you’re sedated during this procedure
- Cardioversion with drugs:This involves the use of medications known as antiarrhythmics, which can be delivered orally or through an IV
Whichever treatment your doctor uses, it’ll be performed in a hospital so you can receive consistent monitoring.
After your heart rhythm is reset, your doctor will want to take steps to keep it regular. This includes the use of certain antiarrhythmic medications, including Ofetilide, Propafenone, Sotalol, Flecainide, or Amiodarone.
When they first start taking these medications, some people experience side effects like dizziness, nausea, or fatigue. In rare cases, these medications can also cause ventricular arrhythmias. They’re still considered a highly effective option when it comes to controlling AFib, though.
When medications and cardioversion are not effective at treating AFib, the next step is surgery. The following procedures can help to correct AFib:
- Catheter ablation, which destroys the parts of the heart that are causing the irregular heartbeat
- Maze procedure, which interferes with the stray electrical impulses causing the irregular heartbeat
- Atrioventricular Node Ablation, which involves destroying parts of the heart causing heartbeat irregularities and then inserting a pacemaker to keep the heart beating in the proper way
These surgeries can be highly effective in treating AFib. They come with increased risk, though, including the risk of stroke and infections.
Blood Clot Prevention
After a doctor has taken steps to regulate the heartbeat, they’ll also want to take steps to prevent blood clot formation. Blood clots can lead to strokes, and the risk of them is higher in people with irregular heart rhythms.
Blood-thinning medications like warfarin are among the most popular options for preventing blood clots.
When symptoms like heart palpitations and headache present themselves and a doctor suspects that AFib is the cause, they’ll also likely recommend some lifestyle changes on top of medical interventions.
This includes dietary changes (avoiding highly processed foods, alcohol, and trans fats, for example, and adding in heart-healthy options like fiber, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables) and giving up unhealthy behaviors like smoking.
They may ask you to try and lose weight, too. Recommending regular exercise is also common, as it helps to strengthen your cardiovascular system and prevents other heart problems from occurring or getting worse.
In addition to managing AFib, there are also quite a few strategies you can use to prevent the dysregulation of your heartbeat. Here are some tips to keep in mind to prevent AFib:
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Eat a heart-healthy diet (low in processed foods, alcohol, sugar, and trans fats)
- Monitor and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol
- Reduce caffeine consumption
- Avoid smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Continue taking medications
Regular check-ups with your doctor are essential, too. They’ll help you become aware of any potential problems early and address them before they can lead to more serious issues.
Take Care of Your Heart Today
As you can see, there’s a lot you need to consider when it comes to caring for your heart and treating conditions like atrial fibrillation.
Now that you have a better understanding of what causes it and the standard AFib treatment protocol, it’s time to act. Keep this information in mind and schedule an appointment with your doctor today to take control of your heart health.
To learn more, don’t forget to visit the Healthy & Well-Being section of our website today.
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The Complete AFib Treatment Guide
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