Atrial Fibrillation Q&A

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is the condition in which the top chambers of your heart, the atria, contract in an irregular fashion producing an abnormal heartbeat. The nerve impulse is supposed to propagate at a particular place in the atrium called the sinus node, but when this does not happen, atrial fibrillation results.

What are the warning signs or symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

In some people, there may be no obvious sign or symptom that something is wrong but in

others, common symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness and heart palpitations
  • The heart rate is faster than usual.
  • Lightheadedness and fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Limited ability to exercise

What can bring on atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is caused by a problem with the electrical impulses of the atrial chambers. The atria are the top two chambers of the heart which receive blood from large veins coming from the lungs and rest of the body. These chambers sit above the ventricles, which are the lower chambers that pump blood out into the arteries. In a healthy person the impulses move from the sinus node of the atrium down a specific pathway through the heart muscle so that the muscles of the heart contract in synchrony. This system goes away in atrial fibrillation leading to irregular atrial contractions. Other conditions can lead to atrial fibrillation, including having pre-existing heart disease.

What triggers atrial fibrillation attacks?

Atrial fibrillation attacks can be triggered by the presence of heart problems such as valve disorders or other cardiac problems such as sick sinus syndrome, coronary artery problems and heart attack. Ingesting too many stimulants can also be a trigger for atrial fibrillation.

What is the link between heart valves and atrial fibrillation?

Heart valve stenosis or narrowing can lead to problems such as atrial fibrillation and can compromise the function of the heart. It is therefore important to consider having heart valve repair work done if you have valve disease.

How serious is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a serious condition because it can result in an increased risk of blood clots being formed. It is important that the atria contract properly to make sure all the blood is pushed into the ventricles, but in atrial fibrillation this may not happen and blood may pool in the atria increasing the chance of clots forming. It also can lead to heart failure since the heart has to work harder to get the job done, and there is an increased risk of strokes because of the propensity to throw blood clots.

What is the best treatment for atrial fibrillation?

The best and most permanent treatment option is the MAZE procedure for atrial fibrillation which is done by Dr. Ghalili. The MAZE is a surgical ablation technique in which cryothermy (freezing) or radiofrequency energy methods are used to create conduction blocks in the atrial muscle to block the incorrect pathway of nerve impulses which are causing the problem. The idea is to restore the proper impulse conduction pathway through the atrial muscle. In patients who have mild atrial fibrillation, medications may work to control symptoms.

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