What is Atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib)

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By DR. P.P. MOHAMMED MUSTHAFA

30 Oct, 2017

#Cardiologist


Have you ever felt those little thumps when you place your hands against your chest?    


While you are resting your heart beats around 60- 100 times per minute. Yet, a disorder in the heart's electrical system can usually cause the heart to beat rapidly to about 100 to 175 per minute, resulting in many heart related complications and stroke!


What happens during atrial fibrillation?
Each time your heart beats, an electrical signal spreads from the top of your heart to the bottom. As the signal travels, it causes the heart to contract and pump blood.


It begins at the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) which contracts first, then the lower chambers (the ventricles) which contract and pump blood to the lungs and the rest of the body. The coordination of these contractions is what exactly moves the blood.


During atrial fibrillation, the heart's electrical signals do not travel normally. They may spread throughout the atria in a rapid, disorganized way, causing the atria to fibrillate or quiver.


The atria and ventricles no longer beat in a coordinated way. This creates a fast and irregular heart rhythm or pulse.
There would be an inconsistent supply of blood to the body as the amount of blood pumped out of the ventricles is now based on the random atrial beats. This can lead to heart failure, as your heart is unable to pump blood efficiently to meet the needs of your body.  Blood can also pool inside your heart and form clots that can lead to stroke.


Causes and symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
AF can be the result of damage to the heart's electrical system from other conditions, such as chronic high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, hyperthyroidism, excess alcohol consumption etc. It is also the most common complication after heart surgery.  However, in many cases no underlying cause is found.


Atrial fibrillation can cause symptoms like a 'fluttering' heartbeat, an irregular pulse, weakness, tiredness, dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting and so on.


Do you need to treat AF?
Atrial fibrillation may be brief, with symptoms that resolve on their own. There can be conditions that may also be persistent and require treatment. It is important to know your symptoms and work with your cardiologist to determine your treatment needs, and to understand your treatment options.  It is important to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle and reduce your overall risks as much as possible.


You should also know how to take your pulse to monitor your heart rate!

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