Sure Signs You Have Atrial Fibrillation, Say Physicians
Commonly referred to as AFib, atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can cause blood clots and put a person at risk for other serious health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over 12 million Americans will have AFib by 2030 and "In 2019, AFib was mentioned on 183,321 death certificates and was the underlying cause of death in 26,535 of those deaths." Treatment for AFib is an option and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explained what to know about atrial fibrillation and signs you have it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
What is Atrial Fibrillation
Dr. Shephal Doshi, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist and director of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA shares, "Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat or an electrical short circuit in the upper chamber of the heart called the atrium. This causes the pulse to be irregular."
Dr. Nikhil Warrier, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist and medical director of electrophysiology at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA adds, "Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is an abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia when the heart doesn't beat in a steady or regular pattern. It is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder. In AFib, the heart's upper chambers (the atria) fibrillate, or 'quiver,' which causes a rapid, irregular heart rhythm."
Extreme Fatigue is a Common Sign of Atrial Fibrillation
Dr. Warrier states, "The most common symptom related to AF is fatigue. Patients also complain of palpitations or rapid/irregular heartbeat. Shortness of breath can manifest with rapid heart rates or congestive heart failure which could also be related to AFib. Weakness, dizziness and lightheadedness can be associated with both rapid and slow heart rates in AFib."
Other Signs of Atrial Fibrillation
Dr. Doshi states, "Most patients who develop this irregular heartbeat feel some sort of symptoms whether it's awareness of the heart beating, palpitation, shortness of breath or chest pain. Nearly a third of the patient's however are completely without symptoms and have no awareness that the heart is beating abnormally."
Atrial Fibrillation and Aging
Dr. Doshi says, "Atrial fibrillation is usually associated with aging with nearly 10% of adults over 70 years old being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. That being said, there are many who are much younger that develop this irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. A common associated diagnosis is high blood pressure or hypertension which is present in many patients or diagnosed with atrial fibrillation."
Risk of Stroke
According to Dr. Doshi, "One of the most important things to understand about atrial fibrillation is that it increases one's risk of stroke by over 5 times. This is especially challenging in people who have no awareness of an abnormality in their heartbeats where often the first symptom is that of a stroke. This is why strategies designed to reduce one's risk for stroke are paramount to the management of atrial fibrillation. This typically involves the use of oral anticoagulants commonly known as blood thinners as a first-line strategy. For patients who are intolerant or unable to take blood thinners there are minimally invasive strategies that can reduce one's risk of stroke without the use of blood thinners."
Dr. Warrier shares, "AFib is associated with an increased risk of stroke as it is a well-recognized cause of ischemic stroke. Fortunately, the risk of stroke in the presence of AF can be markedly reduced by up to 70% with anticoagulation. Given the often paroxysmal and asymptomatic nature of atrial fibrillation, it may not be detected with the use of traditional monitoring techniques and may require prolonged rhythm monitoring."
Heart Failure and Atrial Fibrillation
"Heart failure and atrial fibrillation also frequently coexist," says Dr. Warrier. "Up to 50% with a new diagnosis of heart failure have concomitant atrial fibrillation and approximately one third with new-onset Afib have congestive heart failure."
Who is at Risk for Atrial Fibrillation
Dr. Warrier explains, "The risk for developing AFib increases with age. Estimates of the prevalence of AFib in the United States range from about 2.7 million to 6.1 million. According to the CDC, approximately 2 percent of people younger than 65 years old have AFib, while about 9 percent of people ages 65 and older have it. At the age of 80 years, the lifetime risk of developing AFib is quite substantial with a rate of approximately 22%. High blood pressure or hypertension also accounts for 20% of AFib cases. Additional risk factors or causes for AFib also include a family history of AFib, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol/caffeine use, stress due to surgery or other illness, diabetes, heart failure and structural heart disease."
Atrial Fibrillation Treatment
Dr. Warrier explains, "AFib treatment is tailored to each individual patient and usually depends on how long patients have had Afib, how bothersome symptoms are and the underlying cause of the AFib. Generally, the treatment goals for Afib threefold: 1) to address the risk of stroke to prevent blood clots with blood thinning medications; 2) to determine a rhythm or rate control strategy which can be addressed with medications or invasive options; 3) healthy lifestyle changes to manage AFib risk factors. Bottom line, Afib is a heart rhythm disorder that needs to be treated whether or not you are having any symptoms."