In elementary school you probably learned about how your heart and your lungs work together to supply the rest of your body with oxygenated blood. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood out to all of your organs and limbs and nourishes your cells and tissues.
When your heart beats out of rhythm, it’s called arrhythmia, and the most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (A-Fib). Dr. Yogesh Pawali and his team at Indus Cardiology treat patients everyday. In this post we describe the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options for our patients with A-Fib.
What is, and isn’t, a normal heart rhythm
Atrial fibrillation is common, but not normal. A low estimate of the number of people with A-Fib is just under 3 million.
Most of the time, each of your heart’s beats is caused by a structure called the sinus node in your upper right atrium. This cluster of cells sends an electrical impulse that causes the upper chambers of your heart, or your atria, to contract.
That contraction pushes the blood into your right ventricle, or lower chamber, and then through your pulmonary artery into your lungs. There, your blood absorbs oxygen and then flows back into your heart, where it exits through your left ventricle.
When you have A-Fib the upper chambers, or atria, don’t contract properly. Rather than a full contraction, they quiver or tremble, and your blood isn’t pumped efficiently.
Symptoms of A-Fib
You might think that if your heart isn’t beating in a normal rhythm, you’d be able to feel it. After all, you feel it when your heart beats fast, right? In reality, some people with A-Fib don’t have any symptoms at all. Some, however, may experience:
- Heart palpitations
- Unusual fatigue
- Shortness of breath with no clear cause
- Discomfort or pain in your chest
These symptoms could be constant, or only sometimes. You may only feel them when you exert yourself.
Problems resulting from A-Fib
When your blood isn’t moving efficiently through your heart, you can develop some serious complications. For example, A-Fib can lead to:
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
A-Fib is one of the leading causes of stroke, with around one in seven strokes being the result of A-Fib.
Some factors can make it more likely you’ll develop A-Fib. These include:
- High blood pressure
- Being older
- Heart disease
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Kidney disease
- Thyroid disorder
If you have one or more of these conditions, it’s important to modify those that can be. For example, if you have high blood pressure, limit how much alcohol you drink and don’t smoke.
The best treatment for your atrial fibrillation depends on numerous individual factors. When you come to Indus Cardiology, you can be sure that the treatment we offer is designed to address your specific needs and tailored to fit your circumstances.
Often, the first goal of treatment is to reduce your risk of a blood clot, and Dr. Pawali may prescribe blood thinners. Other medications can help to regulate the rhythm of your heart. Lifestyle interventions such as changing your diet or losing some weight may lower your risk of complications as well.
In some cases, conservative treatments aren’t effective enough, and a procedure called an ablation may be appropriate. This treatment creates adhesions which help break up the irregular electrical impulses and help to regulate your heart’s rhythm. A device such as a pacemaker may also be an option.
If you suspect you may have A-Fib, schedule an appointment at the location of Indus Cardiology most convenient for you — we’re located in Pomona, Montclair, and West Covina, California. We’re always happy to answer your questions and discuss your treatment options.