One of the most disconcerting things about life is finding out that a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. The feeling of helplessness — and sometimes, hopelessness — can be overwhelming, and it’s certainly life-changing. And, when such a condition is related to a vital organ, it’s easy to feel like a rug has been pulled from under your feet. Such is the case with chronic atrial fibrillation. What, exactly, does it mean? What are the warning signs that something is wrong? And, what are the best forms of treatment?
What is chronic atrial fibrillation?
To understand atrial fibrillation, you must first be familiarized with the anatomy of the heart. The organ has four chambers. The right atrium receives blood from the veins. It then pumps it into the right ventricle. The right ventricle, in turn, pumps this blood into the lungs. Meanwhile, the left atrium receives oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it into the left ventricle — which is the strongest chamber. The left ventricle then pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.
Atrial fibrillation is a condition that causes the top chambers of the heart to beat irregularly. If the arrhythmia lasts longer than a week, it is known as chronic atrial fibrillation.
Symptoms of Chronic Atrial Fibrillation
Some people with chronic atrial fibrillation do not experience any symptoms. However, those that do tend to report the following:
Fluttering in the chest
Shortness of breath
It is also possible to experience symptoms similar to those of a heart attack — such as cold sweats, lightheadedness, and/or aches or pressure in the chest that spread to the neck and jaw. If severe, you should see a doctor immediately.
Risk Factors of Chronic Atrial Fibrillation
Chronic atrial fibrillation could happen to anyone. However, those at higher risk of developing the condition include those who are 60 years of age or older and those with a family history of the condition. In addition, certain underlying illnesses can increase the likelihood of chronic atrial fibrillation. These include:
Heart disease or structural heart problems
High blood pressure
Sick sinus syndrome
Chronic health conditions
Have had heart surgery
Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Atrial Fibrillation
Chronic atrial fibrillation can be difficult to diagnose precisely because so many individuals who suffer from it do not experience any symptoms. Because of this, it is often diagnosed when patients go to the doctor for other reasons. If your healthcare professional suspects the condition, they will order an electrocardiogram or an echocardiogram. This is done to evaluate the way your heart is pumping blood as well as to determine whether there is fluid retention in the lungs. Other tests that may be done are:
An event monitor, such as a Holter monitor, that records your heart’s electrical activity for a period of time.
A stress test to evaluate how your heart functions during exercise.
A transesophageal echocardiogram to get a closer look at your heart via your esophagus.
Blood tests to check for hyperthyroidism or other conditions that may trigger Afib.
Treatment options include beta-blockers — medications designed to slow down your heart rate. Your doctor may also prescribe blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots. In some severe cases, the condition fails to respond to medications. When this occurs, your medical provider will resort to shocking the heart to its regular heartbeat through a procedure called electro cardioversion.
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