When the heart is functioning normally, it beats to a regular rhythm and the 2 upper and 2 lower chambers pump blood in a regular manner and flow. However, if the 2 upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria, beat in an irregular rhythm, and are not pumping in coordination with the 2 lower chambers, known as the ventricles, the flow of blood is disrupted and this can cause palpitations and shortness of breath. This condition, known as Atrial Fibrillation (AF) can be a recurring temporary condition or it may be chronic which means that it becomes permanent. Recurring episodes of AF are serious but not usually life-threatening but there is a serious risk that the disruption in the pumping rhythm can cause stasis of blood in upper chambers of the heart which could lead to the formation of blood clots.
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
There are several reasons why AF may occur. The most common include:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary heart disease
- A heart attack
- Congenital heart defects
- An unhealthy lifestyle
- An overactive thyroid gland
- Excessive use of medications, stimulants, smoking, alcohol and the use of recreational drugs
- Viral infections and associated cardiomyopathy ( heart muscle weakness)
- Sleep apnea and chronic obstructive airway disease
- Sedentary life and obesity
- Increased age
- May be a feature of chronic diseases
- At times, of no known cause
Symptoms Of Atrial Fibrillation
The most common symptoms of AF include:
- Palpitation – sensations of the heart racing or irregular heartbeats
- Weakness, lack of stamina, constant or recurring fatigue
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest
These and other less common symptoms may be occasional, recur at frequent intervals or may be permanent.
Also Read: Difficulty in breathing – What it could mean and emergency response
The Risk Of An Embolic Stroke
When AF causes blood flow to slow down in the heart, this stagnant blood can form clots. These clots may become dislodged from the heart and travel to the brain or to any other part of the body. When this happens the supply of blood to the organ is reduced or may even be blocked. Without proper blood supply, the brain cells begin to die and this may result in, among other complications, paralysis, reduced mental ability and even death. This is known as an Embolic Stroke. An embolus is a clot that traveled from one part of the body to the other, usually from the heart.
It is estimated that about 1 in every 6 strokes is caused by AF and that those suffering from AF are 5 times more likely to suffer from a stroke as compared to those without this condition. Studies also show that a stroke caused by AF is twice as likely to be fatal or result in permanent disability as compared to strokes from other causes.
Atrial Fibrillation has become the commonest cause of a stroke in the elderly, of unknown cause, the so-called Cryptogenic stroke. On the brighter side, Atrial Fibrillation is now being detected efficiently by smartwatches and ELRs (external loop recorders) These are wearable devices which are the new age highly useful medical devices.
Also Read: Senior citizens – Medical emergencies
A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of AF and a resulting Embolic Stroke. A heart-healthy life will include:
- Proper diet
- Adequate exercise
- Controlling weight
- Stopping smoking
- consumption of tea/coffee and alcohol in moderation
- Caution in the use of over-the-counter medications
- Reducing stress and tension levels
- Getting enough sleep and rest
Consult A Specialist
If you suspect you suffer from AF or any other heart condition, consult a doctor without delay. The earlier the condition is diagnosed and treatment begun, the greater the chances of recovery. Even if you do not have any symptoms of AF regular medical check-ups that include the heart will help to minimize the risk of AF or other cardiac conditions developing.
A full and thorough cardiac examination to determine the presence of a medical condition or the likelihood of one developing requires both a highly qualified and experienced cardiologist and a hospital with state-of-the-art medical equipment. A clean bill of health is the best outcome, but if that does not happen, in a hospital with a world-class Center of Excellence in Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, you can be sure of receiving the best possible treatment and care.
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Karaikudi, Hosur and Salem, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.
Chennai – 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Karaikudi – 04565 244555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777