Atrial Fibrillation

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Understanding Atrial Fibrillation: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a common heart rhythm disturbance that affects the efficiency of the heart. Recognising its symptoms and understanding its types and treatment options can help improve the quality of life for those affected by the condition.

Atrial Fibrillation Overview

A normal heart beats between 60 and 100 times per minute when resting, but in someone with Atrial Fibrillation, this may increase to over 140 beats per minute and become irregular. The upper chambers of the heart, called atria, contract randomly and too fast, preventing them from filling and relaxing correctly. This reduces the heart's efficiency.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

There are approximately 500,000 people in the UK with Atrial Fibrillation. The condition can affect adults of any age but is more common in older individuals and men. Risk factors include excessive smoking or drinking, high blood pressure, heart valve problems, and other medical conditions.

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

  • Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation - comes and goes, usually stopping within 48 hours without treatment
  • Persistent atrial fibrillation - lasts longer than seven days (or less when treated)
  • Longstanding persistent atrial fibrillation - typically lasts for longer than a year
  • Permanent atrial fibrillation - present all the time, with no attempts to restore normal heart rhythm

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

  • Fast, irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Other symptoms may be present, but some people may not experience any signs or symptoms

Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation can vary depending on the person, but it generally includes:

  • Medications to control the Atrial Fibrillation
  • Medicines to reduce the risk of a stroke
  • Cardioversion (electric shock treatment)
  • Catheter ablation
  • Pacemaker implantation

Although Atrial Fibrillation can be uncomfortable, individuals with the condition can lead a normal life with proper treatment and management.