Updated 19 October 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Atrial Fibrillation?Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of arrhythmias in Australia. An arrhythmia is a condition where the heart beats irregularly. The heart is a vital organ with four chambers (2 atriums and 2 ventricles) that work together to pump blood around the body. When atrial fibrillation occurs, the atriums twitch faster and out of rhythm than the ventricles. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 500,000 Australians are affected by atrial fibrillation . Those over the age of 55 are the most affected. Atrial fibrillation can lead to several complications and conditions that require careful monitoring. Several types of atrial fibrillation can be diagnosed, which include:
- Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: A quick and abnormal heart rate which can suddenly occur. Episodes can appear and disappear within seven days without treatment.
- Persistent atrial fibrillation: Episodes of quick and abnormal heart rate which persist for more than a week. Treatments are required to stop it.
- Permanent atrial fibrillation: Quick and abnormal heart rate which persists for more than a year. The heart doesn't return to a normal rhythm and may require treatment to keep it under control.
Atrial Fibrillation SymptomsThere are many symptoms of atrial fibrillation. If you suspect that you exhibit any signs, please talk to your doctor. The main symptom is heart palpitations, a feeling that your heartbeat is racing and abnormal. They will perform the necessary tests to help identify these changes in your heart. Below is a list of other symptoms which may be related :
- Fatigue and tiredness, especially when exercising
- Discomfort in your chest, people will often report a thumping and abnormal sensation
- Feeling faint or confused
Atrial Fibrillation CausesCauses of atrial fibrillation will vary. Both genetics and lifestyle factors can play a part in developing atrial fibrillation . Examples of related conditions and/or factors include:
- Being obese
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Having type 2 diabetes
- Having obstructive sleep apnoea
- Having coronary artery disease
- Having valvular heart disease
- Heart failure
- Chronic kidney failure
- Drinking excessively
- Having electrolyte imbalances or abnormalities
- Sepsis (infection of the body's tissues)
Tests and DiagnosisTalk to your GP if you're experiencing any symptoms related to atrial fibrillation. They will speak to you and ask questions that are relevant to this condition. A physical assessment, including listening to your heart, may be necessary. However, further testing is required for a diagnosis.
Blood TestThere are currently no blood tests that look for atrial fibrillation. However, your doctor may recommend a blood test to identify any potential underlying causes or other related conditions.
EchocardiogramAn echocardiogram is one of the main ways your doctor can detect atrial fibrillation. This ultrasound machine uses sound waves from the heart to create images of the heart. The information obtained here helps identify how well the heart is functioning and whether there are any abnormalities.
24-Hour Holter MonitoringA Holter monitor is a wearable device that can help track the heart's rhythm. Your doctor may recommend this test to help continuously monitor how your heart beats during your normal daily activities.
Chest X-RayYour doctor may recommend a chest X-ray to identify the health of your lungs and heart. Radiographers perform chest x-rays to help capture 2D images of structures inside your body.
Atrial Fibrillation TreatmentsAfter receiving the necessary testing, your doctor can provide you with the appropriate treatment(s). Treatment of atrial fibrillation will vary from person-to-person depending on your medical history and assessments. Make sure you discuss any inquiries or concerns about these treatments with your doctor.
MedicationsYour doctor can prescribe medications to help control your heart rhythm and heart rate. Your doctor may consider several factors when recommending medications, including the type of atrial fibrillation you are experiencing, any side effects and whether you are taking any other drugs.
CardioversionCardioversion is a procedure used to help restore normal heart rhythm and function . This is a medical procedure that uses electrical shocks to help bring your heart rate and rhythm back to normal.
Catheter AblationCatheter ablation is a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to remove part of the heart that may be causing atrial fibrillation. This treatment may be an option for those with symptoms that cannot be controlled by medication.
PacemakerA pacemaker is a device implanted into the heart to help control heart rate and rhythm. Minor surgery is required to help insert this device into the heart. The pacemaker delivers electrical energy to the heart when it senses it is not functioning normally.
RecoveryAtrial fibrillation is a progressive condition that can worsen over time. However, seeking the correct guidance and treatment can help improve your health outcomes. Uncontrolled atrial fibrillation can lead to further health complications and even death.
ComplicationsIrregular heart rhythm and rate can cause blood clots in the heart. The main complication from clotting is a stroke. Other complications include:
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- Low energy and fatigue
- Cardiac arrest
Receiving quality care from highly experienced doctors is essential for a prompt diagnosis and receiving the correct medical treatment. With 24-7 MedCare, you can experience telemedicine from the convenience of your own home. Our friendly online doctors will be available 24/7 for a consultation, anytime and anywhere in Australia.
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- Said, M. A., Verweij, N., & van der Harst, P. (2018). Associations of combined genetic and lifestyle risks with incident cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the UK Biobank Study. JAMA cardiology, 3(8), 693-702.