What are the Symptoms of AFib (Atrial Fibrillation)?


Atrial fibrillation is a quivery flutter inside the heart. It occurs when the heart’s regular rhythm is transformed into rapid, disorganized electrical signals in the upper compartment of the heart, known as atria. Doctors may also call it an arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other complications. To help people suffering from this condition, many atrial fibrillation clinical trials are being conducted to investigate potential new treatment options.  

This article will cover the essential knowledge you need about Atrial Fibrillation and may help you better prepare. 

Facts About AFib

  • By 2030, 12.1 million individuals in the United States will have AFib.
  • A report from 2019 states that AFib was the underlying cause of 26,535 reported deaths.
  • Caucasians have a higher predisposition for AFib.
  • More women experience AFib than men because the cases increase with age, and women live longer than men. 

What are the Types of AFib? 

As John Hopkins Medicine explains, there are three types of atrial fibrillation:

  • Paroxysmal AFib: It lasts less than seven days but stops without treatment. 
  • Persistent AFib: It lasts more than a week and requires electric shocks to the heart (cardioversion) to restore rhythm. 
  • Long-standing persistent AFib: Long-standing AFib lasts more than a year, and management is not easy. 

What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation symptoms depend on the intensity of your heartbeat. Some people might not feel any symptoms even if their heartbeat is beating at a higher pace. When the ventricles begin beating faster, you will start noticing the following: 

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • A feeling of butterflies in the chest
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain (angina)

You should consult your healthcare provider if you experience any of the above symptoms. 

When Should You Call 911?

Sometimes the symptoms of AFib rapidly worsen to internal bleeding, heart attacks, stroke, and cardiac arrest. So, it is imperative to learn about the telltale signs of Atrial Fibrillation and its sequelae and share them with your close ones. You should immediately call 911 if you notice these around you:

1. Signs of Bleeding

  • Blood in vomit, stool, or urine
  • Severe headaches
  • Vision changes
  • Difficulty raising legs or arms
  • Loss of memory

These are signs of internal bleeding. Blood thinners lower the risk of AFib but, taking too much can cause bleeding. 

2. Heart Attack Symptoms

  • Pain and discomfort in the chest
  • A feeling of tightness around the chest
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Pain down your left arm

Some of the female-specific symptoms are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath (SOB)
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Pain in the back, shoulders, or jaw

3. Stroke Symptoms

  • Unexpected one-sided numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg
  • Sudden confusion and slurred speech
  • Difficulty comprehending speech
  • Loss of vision 
  • Inability to walk 
  • lack of muscle coordination

Every second counts in an event of a stroke thus, a better understanding of the signs of stroke is important to prevent permanent brain damage. 

4. Signs of Cardiac Arrest

  • Chest pain (angina pectoris)
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheaded

These signs are usually prevalent around half an hour before cardiac arrest. Sometimes, these symptoms may not appear, and a person could simply faint. Having someone around you who is aware of these signs is a good idea. If not, medical alert devices can be used to notify others. 

What are the Risk Factors for AFib?

The risk of AFib rises as we age. High blood pressure (hypertension) combined with old age contributes to 1 in 5 cases of AFib. These risk factors are: 

  • Advancing age
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • European descent
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Alcoholism 
  • Smoking
  • Heart enlargement (cardiomegaly)

How is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?

The first thing your doctor may ask is your previous medical history which can reveal critical information needed to diagnose AFib. You need to share details of your family history, diet, hobbies, practices, and symptoms you have noticed. It is normal not to know the answer to all their questions, but you should share as much relevant information as possible. 

After learning about your experiences and history, your healthcare provider may carry out physical exams that may include:

  • Listening to heart sounds with a stethoscope
  • Taking your blood pressure and checking your pulse
  • Inspecting your neck and checking for signs of thyroid issues
  • Examining your legs and feet for swellings which may reveal signs of edema
  • Listening to your breathing sounds for heart failure or lung infections

These physical examinations help your healthcare provider understand your health condition better and proceed with tests.

Tests to Diagnose Atrial Fibrillation

If your doctor believes you are at risk of AFib, they will prescribe some of the following tests: 

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG is usually the first-line test. It is a non-invasive, three-minute test and detects changes in your heartbeats.
  • Echocardiogram (echo). An echocardiogram uses ultrasound technology to reveal problems with blood flow and heart muscle contractions. 
  • Blood tests. Blood tests can reveal imbalances in the blood. Imbalances in potassium and thyroid are key factors leading to AFib. This test helps your doctor choose the best medicine for your liver and kidney functions.

What are the Treatments for Atrial Fibrillation?

 Before we proceed towards the treatment of AFib, we must  is mainly aimed at: 

  • Controlling your heart rate.
  • Regaining a normal heart rhythm.
  • Reducing your risk of having a stroke.

Treatment for AFib

Based on symptoms, your doctor may first prescribe medicines. Some of the medications used to treat AFib include:

  1. Rate control medications: digoxin, metoprolol, verapamil, or diltiazem.
  2. Rhythm control medications: procainamide, disopyramide, flecainide acetate, propafenone, sotalol, dofetilide or amiodarone.
  3. Blood thinners and anticoagulant medications: warfarin, warfarin alternatives, or aspirin.

Surgeries and other procedures proceed if medications are not enough to manage AFib. 

Pulmonary vein ablation, artificial pacemaker, left atrial appendage closure, and The maze procedure is one of the surgical options. 

The Takeaway

Atrial fibrillation is a type of heart condition in which the heart beats irregularly, often at a rapid pace. The upper parts of the heart (atria) contract rapidly and irregularly causing palpitation, fatigue, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and much more.

Sometimes, AFib may go away on its own but for others, it may be a long-term issue. AFib may progressively worsen over time. 

You might begin with sporadic, minor AFib that doesn’t appear to go away years down the line. Furthermore, how quickly this occurs (referred to as “the rate of progression”) may be more crucial than how long your AFib episodes continue. Common treatment options include medication, cardioversion, catheter ablation, and lifestyle modification. 

Prime Revival Research Institute is a prominent institution investigating potential new treatment options for AFib. If you have exhausted all other options or want to contribute towards the advancement of medicine consider taking part in clinical trials.

ALSO READ: The role ENT instruments play during otorhinolaryngology

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