What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib or AF, is indicated by an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can result in a blood clot that leads to a stroke, heart failure, or other complications. AFib is a manageable and treatable condition, however, many patients with AFib are unaware of how serious it can be. A healthy, normal heart will contract and relax with each heartbeat, effectively moving the blood to the rest of the body. With atrial fibrillation, the upper chamber of the heart is not in sync with the lower ventricles, resulting in the blood becoming trapped in one area of the heart, most commonly the left atrial appendage (LAA). The blood cells can then clot together and sometimes escape the heart, traveling to another area of the body. This can result in a blood clot that prevents blood from reaching the brain, resulting in a stroke or heart failure.
What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?
The most common causes of atrial fibrillation are abnormalities or damage to the heart’s structure. Possible causes of this include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Congenital heart defects
- An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Lung disease
- Chronic stress
- Sleep apnea
While there are many possible causes of atrial fibrillation, some cases do not have a known cause. This is known as lone atrial fibrillation, and the condition rarely results in complications. There are other factors that can contribute to the development of atrial fibrillation, including older age, the development of heart disease, obesity, alcohol use, and a family history of the condition.
What Are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
While some of those with AFib may never develop symptoms, signs of the condition may include:
- Heart palpitations, an uncomfortable sensation of an irregular or fast heartbeat
- Weakness and fatigue
- Reduced stamina during exercise
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
AFib symptoms can be occasional (those that come and go), persistent, long-lasting (occurring longer than 12 months), and permanent (when the heart rate can’t be restored). At the Heart Rhythm Institute, we take heart health and heart disease seriously and urge those experiencing symptoms of chest pain or irregular heart rate to take action sooner rather than later.
If you experience symptoms of atrial fibrillation, schedule an appointment with Dr. Beshai for a proper diagnosis using an electrocardiogram (ECG). Dr. Beshai may also suggest an ECG test if you do not have symptoms but are at a higher risk for AFib.
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How is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?
An electrocardiogram can effectively determine the presence of AFib by sensing the heart’s electrical activity. Once you have been properly diagnosed with the condition and the area of the heart that’s causing it, Dr. Beshai can develop a treatment plan. The goal of atrial fibrillation treatment is to prevent complications such as a stroke. Treatment may involve the use of a blood-thinning medication like Warfarin to prevent the blood from clotting. Dr. Beshai may also recommend the WATCHMAN device, a small device that is inserted into the heart that closes the LAA and prevents blood clots from escaping and causing a stroke. This method is permanent and highly effective when atrial fibrillation involves the LAA.
Consistent Heart Health Care
Depending on your treatment plan, regular follow-up appointments with Dr. Beshai may be needed. This determines how well your treatment is working and whether further action needs to be taken by our heart AFib team. In the case of medications, follow-up appointments are essential as long-term use of blood-thinning medication can have negative consequences. In the case of the WATCHMAN device implantation, treatment is permanent and once it is ensured that the device is working effectively, a replacement procedure will not be necessary.
Living With Atrial Fibrillation
After you’ve received an AFib diagnosis, there are several ways to reduce the risk of complications. First and foremost is to follow Dr. Beshai’s instructions, including the use of medications. In addition, establishing a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce the risks of heart disease and stroke, and can help manage the symptoms associated with atrial fibrillation. A heart-healthy lifestyle can involve:
- Getting regular physical activity
- Reducing your salt and fat intake as part of your diet
- Moderating or eliminating alcohol and caffeine
- Quitting smoking
Scheduling Your Atrial Fibrillation Treatment Appointment
Dr. Beshai offers atrial fibrillation testing and treatment to help prevent the risk of complications like stroke or heart attack. When it comes to heart rhythm problems in Phoenix, AZ, early screening and monitoring are essential, even if symptoms have not occurred yet. If you are at risk for atrial fibrillation and want to know more about your treatment options, please call our office at 480-634-4449 or fill out our online form and schedule your appointment at the Heart Rhythm Institute of Arizona.
The Heart Institute of Arizona has a wide array of services that come with our premium care. From in-office dianostics and treatable conditions, to hospital based procedures, we’ve got your heart covered.