Atrial fibrillation: symptoms, risks and how to intervene

Everything you need to know about atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder: the alarm bells to watch out for, risk factors and the most effective therapies

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Atrial fibrillation represents arrhythmia more widespread in the population and with increasing age the risk of suffering from this heart disease increases. Sometimes it can lead to a number of complications and expose you to ictus and heart failure and become disabling. Let's find out what are the symptoms, the causes and how to intervene to treat this arrhythmia.


What is atrial fibrillation

We speak of atrial fibrillation when the heartbeat is irregular and accelerated. In subjects suffering from this condition, the electrical activity of the atria is disorganized. The upper chambers of the heart do not contract synchronously and therefore beat very quickly and irregularly. As a result, the blood is not pumped efficiently to the rest of the body.

Very often the first episodes of atrial fibrillation begin and end spontaneously within a few hours. In these cases we are faced with the so-called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. If you don't opt ​​for a cure, these episodes become more and more frequent over the years and can even lead to serious consequences.

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The causes of this arrhythmia

But what causes atrial fibrillation? Usually this arrhythmia occurs in the presence of cardiac pathologies such as: previous myocardial infarction, heart failure, valve defects and arterial hypertension. In other cases, atrial fibrillation is caused by impaired thyroid function or due to lung disease. Among the risk factors we also find: high cholesterol, overweight, sedentary lifestyle and hypertension.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation manifests itself with the following symptoms:

  • palpitations
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • shortness of breath
  • shortness of breath
  • sense of weakness

Not all subjects, however, experience these symptoms. Atrial fibrillation can in fact be asymptomatic and it can happen to discover that you suffer from it by chance during a medical examination.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosing atrial fibrillation isn't always straightforward. The recommended exam in case you suspect you suffer from this pathology is first of all the electrocardiogram (ECG), but to ascertain the presence of this arrhythmia the specialist can choose to resort to other tests such as:

  • blood tests to get information on thyroid function, kidney function and electrolytes
  • cocardiogramm
  • 24-48 hour dynamic ECG holter
  • Loop recorder implant (device under the skin, such as a microchip that continuously records the heartbeat)
  • stress test

As for the treatments, however, there are different options based on individual cases. High-risk people with atrial fibrillation usually undergo oral anticoagulation to reduce the risk of complications such as stroke. While for the other less serious patients, a specific pharmacological treatment is used with antiarrhythmic drugs that change from subject to subject. In the event that the arrhythmia tends to recur frequently and the drugs are not sufficient, the so-called ablation of atrial fibrillation can be used, a minimally invasive intervention that aims to eliminate the atrial foci that generate the onset of fibrillation. Ablation is performed in the hospital, under local or general anesthesia.

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Source: MD Manuals/Humanity

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