Risks and Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation



The Epidemics of Atrial Fibrillation and Heart Failure

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common disorder of the heart rhythm or beat.  An estimated 3 to 4 million Americans are currently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation; many others probably have undiagnosed atrial fibrillation. The number of Americans with atrial fibrillation is expected to double or triple by the year 2050.

The chance of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age. For all of you baby boomers born between the years 1946 and 1964, the risk of atrial fibrillation is already here and will rise exponentially during your lifetime.

Atrial fibrillation is rapid, disorganized, and irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart, also called the atria. This is in contrast to the usual slow and regular beating of the atria, called normal sinus rhythm. In both cases, the electrical impulses responsible for atrial beating are transmitted to the lower pumping chambers of the heart, called the ventricles, causing the ventricles to pump blood through the lungs and throughout the body.

Atrial fibrillation causes a number of problems,including rapid, disorganized, and irregular beating of the ventricles, and it increases the risk for heart disease, blood clots in the heart, and stroke from these blood clots traveling to the brain.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:

  • heart palpitations (pounding or fluttering in the chest),
  • nervousness
  • lightheadedness
  • fainting or near fainting
  • shortness of breath
  • exercise intolerance
  • generalized weakness

Other symptoms, such as chest pain, may also occur. The Heart Rhythm Society has produced a useful fact sheet on atrial fibrillation that expands on some of these details.

Treatment of atrial fibrillation includes blood thinners to prevent blood clots and medications to slow or control the heart rate or rhythm. In an upcoming post, we will explore the potential cure for atrial fibrillation, catheter-based or surgical atrial fibrillation ablation.

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure, the second epidemic of cardiovascular disease, results from abnormal weakness or stiffness of the heart muscle. Heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans. As with atrial fibrillation, the number of heart failure patients is rapidly increasing and expected to double or triple over the next 30 to 40 years.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart failure costs the nation nearly billion per year. For patients, the cost in terms of suffering and disability is immeasurable.  Moreover, death rates for heart failure are worse than for most forms of cancer.

Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • shortness of breath during daily activities
  • difficulty breathing when lying down
  • swelling in the ankles and legs
  • generalized weakness and fatigue
  • exercise intolerance

You can find more on these symptoms and standard treatment options for heart failure on the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center website.

While current drug treatments for heart failure have improved and saved lives, devices (such as certain pacemakers and defibrillators) may also help many heart failure patients. In addition, a growing list of newer (some experimental) drugs and devices are showing great promise for treating heart failure. Stay tuned for more on innovative therapies for heart failure.

PHOTO CREDIT: istock.com

Last Updated:6/20/2013
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Date: 14.12.2018, 00:27 / Views: 81242