Atrial fibrillation or atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart rhythm disorder characterized by an irregular and fast heartbeat . Patients with atrial fibrillation may experience symptoms of weakness, palpitations, and shortness of breath.
A normal heart rate ranges from 60–100 beats per minute at a regular rhythm. In people with atrial fibrillation, the heart rhythm becomes irregular and can be more than 100 beats per minute.
Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia or heart rhythm disorder. Symptoms can come and go, last a long time, or even be permanent. If left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to heart failure and stroke.
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
Atrial fibrillation (AF) occurs due to disturbances in the conduction of electrical signals in the heart muscle. As a result, the heart rate becomes abnormal so it does not pump blood optimally throughout the body.
This electrical disruption is thought to be caused by the following factors:
- Consumption of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages
- Consumption of cough and cold medicines
- Smoking habit
- High blood pressure
- Coronary heart disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart valve disorders
- Heart attack
- Viral infection
- Sleep apnea
- Metabolic disorders
- Lung disease
Apart from the factors above, there are other conditions that can increase a person's risk of developing AF, namely:
- old age
- Suffer from obesity or overweight
- Have a family who also has atrial fibrillation
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
Atrial fibrillation can cause symptoms of fatigue quickly or even not cause any symptoms. As a result, this condition is often not realized by the sufferer. However, if the heart rate is too fast, people with AF may experience the following symptoms:
- Heart beat
- Chest pain
- Hard to breathe
AF may occur intermittently within minutes to hours, or occur repeatedly over the course of a week. These symptoms of AF can still go away, either on their own or with medication.
However, atrial fibrillation can also occur continuously for more than 1 year or even permanently. This condition requires long-term treatment to prevent stroke and heart failure.
When to see a doctor
Check with your doctor if you have palpitations. Your doctor will examine you to determine whether your symptoms are caused by atrial fibrillation.
Immediately go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital if you feel palpitations that cause chest pain and shortness of breath, because these conditions can be a sign of a heart attack .
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is at risk for people with hypertension or heart disease. If you suffer from this disease, do regular check-ups with your doctor, to monitor the progress of the disease and evaluate treatment.
Diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
After asking about the symptoms experienced and the patient's previous medical history, the doctor will perform a physical examination. During a physical examination, the doctor will check the patient's pulse and blood pressure, and listen to the patient's heart rate through a stethoscope.
To determine whether the patient is suffering from atrial fibrillation, the doctor will perform supporting examinations in the form of:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) , to see irregular heart electrical activity in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF)
- Holter monitor, which is a portable EKG that can record the electrical activity of the heart for 24 hours or more
- Treadmill ECG, which is an ECG test performed while the patient is walking or running on a treadmill
- Chest X-ray, to visually see the condition of the heart and lungs
- Heart echo , to examine the shape and function of the heart in more detail
- Blood tests are performed to check the patient's cholesterol levels which are often elevated in someone with heart disease
Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Treatment
The goal of treating AF is to treat the cause, normalize the heart rate, and prevent blockages in the blood vessels, as described below.
Normalize heart rate and rhythm
In order to normalize a heart rate that is too fast and make the heart rhythm regular, doctors can perform the following actions:
- Antiarrhythmic drugs , such as beta blockers , digoxin, amiodarone, or calcium antagonists
- Cardioversion or electroshock of the heart
- Cardiac ablation, by destroying the damaged part of the heart and disrupting the heart's electrical flow
Even though an electric shock or ablation has been carried out, the cardiologist can still give medicines to maintain a normal heart rate.
Prevent blood clots
Patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) are very at risk of experiencing blood clots and blockage of blood vessels, especially in the brain (stroke). To prevent this, the doctor will prescribe anticoagulant drugs , such as warfarin, apixaban, or rivaroxaban .
In many cases, the patient will need to take the drug for the rest of their life even if their heart rate has returned to normal.
Complications of Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
Compliance with treatment along with routine control to the doctor can help reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation sufferers developing serious complications. Conversely, if left untreated, this disease can lead to heart failure or stroke.
Prevention of Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
Atrial fibrillation is caused by many factors, making it difficult to prevent. However, prevention in general can be done by maintaining the health of the heart organ .
Some healthy lifestyles that can be done to maintain heart health are:
- Maintain ideal body weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat high-fiber foods , such as fruits and vegetables
- Manage stress well
- Quit smoking
Atrial fibrillation can also be prevented by limiting the consumption of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, and being careful about taking over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. It is important to remember, follow the dosage and instructions for use listed on the drug packaging.