We talk about atrial fibrillation to refer to a defect in the electrical conduction of the heart. The heart, a muscle-pump that sends blood throughout the body, has on average 60 to 100 beats per minute. Being an involuntary muscle it contracts without command, and therefore in the atrial sinus node there is a ‘control unit’ which gives those electrical impulses necessary to maintain the contractions of the heart – and therefore the beats – coordinated and right.
Where instead the electric controls are wrong or disorganized, consequently also the beat of the heart will be irregular. The heart loses efficiency and increases the frequency of pulsations up to 160-180 per minute: this is that pathological condition, the most common of all arrhythmia, which takes the name of atrial fibrillation.
Chronic and paroxysmal atrial fibrillation
We speak of chronic atrial fibrillation if the arrhythmia does not resolve over a few days, but persists over time.
In this case, atrial fibrillation is the symptom of a pre-existing heart disease: the doctor must determine what it is to identify an ad hoc cure.
We talk instead of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation if the arrhythmia arrives suddenly, in a healthy subject and without heart disease, and resolves spontaneously within a few days. In this case the duration of atrial fibrillation is about one or two days but also a short time, for example a few minutes.
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a generally silent and asymptomatic disease especially when the heartbeats do not exceed 120 per minute, especially if it develops in the chronic form.
However, some people may experience symptoms, such as …
- Fast pulsations; it is what is called cardiopalmos, the perception that the heart beats much faster;
- Lack of air; the technical term is dyspnea, you can hardly breathe, you feel the so-called “air hunger”;
- Rapid and uneven pulse;
- Tiredness, fatigue, even after minimal physical effort such as making scales;
- Dizziness and loss of balance;
- Sense of fainting;
- Chest pain;
- Heart failure.
The treatment of atrial fibrillation
The treatment of atrial fibrillation depends primarily on the type of disease that caused it.
Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, not being due to pathological causes, generally resolves within 24 or maximum 48 hours and if necessary, drugs that resemble glintiaritmici are administered.
If, on the other hand, sudden atrial fibrillation occurs in the person suffering from heart diseases, anti-arrhythmic drugs or electrical cardioversion are used, a kind of electro-shock therapy that ‘resets’ the heart to make the heartbeat return to normal.
If atrial fibrillation is due to hyperthyroidism, instead, opting for surgical thyroid removal therapy.
Causes of atrial fibrillation and risk factors
Atrial fibrillation is caused by injury to the electrical system of the heart. Generally this disorder arises due to other heart diseases, such as hypertension or coronary artery disease, and can be accentuated by some phenomena such as poor diet, smoking, poor physical activity.
Furthermore, with increasing age, there is also an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
The causes of atrial fibrillation are quite complex and sometimes are not even known. In general, the electrical impulse that regulates the beating of the heart is disorganized, altered, and consequently also the heartbeat is affected.
However, in all cases, doctors cannot explain the cause of atrial fibrillation. Among the causes of this pathology, coronary artery disease and hypertension, as well as hyperthyroidism, appear to be the most common ones.
The way to diagnose atrial fibrillation is a simple electrocardiogram.
The doctor diagnoses this arrhythmia by means of the examination, which is not invasive and lasts a few minutes. Electrodes that record the electrical pulse of the heart are placed on the patient’s chest and body.
The doctor then proceeds to check the pressure, the blood sugar level, and the levels of the thyroid hormones so as to evaluate from time to time what is the cause of atrial fibrillation.
If the disease does not resolve spontaneously, the doctor continues with other tests in order to exclude the existence of the most probable pathologies that can cause this phenomenon.
In any case, regardless of the cause, the patient is treated and observed by means of periodic check-ups.
It is shown that the risk of suffering from atrial fibrillation is higher for people aged 65 to 85; 70% of patients have this age.
In addition there are also other risk factors, such as diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, to which this pathology is linked.
First of all, men are more at risk than women than atrial fibrillation.
It seems that belonging to the Caucasian race is a risk factor compared to belonging to the African-American race.
Furthermore, as the age of the subject increases, the risk of contracting – in general – diseases affecting the heart, including atrial fibrillation, also increases.
At the same time this disease is rare in children.
Given the fact that the risk factors of atrial fibrillation are those so far seen, the best solution to try to avoid this arrhythmia is prevention.
To prevent atrial fibrillation it is necessary to follow a diet that takes care of the heart and therefore is rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Smoking, physical activity and keeping weight should be avoided.