Heart disease is one of the top killers around the world, and one of the causes of heart disease is an irregular heart rhythm. One of the common irregular rhythms is atrial fibrillation. But what is atrial fibrillation and how can you treat it?
For us to understand more about atrial fibrillation, let us first review the relevant anatomy and physiology of the heart. The heart consists of two upper chambers and two lower chambers called the atrium and the ventricles respectively. Atrial fibrillation results when these two chambers contract excessively and irregularly. This is the most common form of irregular rhythm or arrhythmia of the heart. This disorder means that there is a disorder in the electrical system of the heart.
Irregularities of the heart rhythm or arrhythmias occur when a part of the heart known as the atrioventricular node discharges too many impulses leading to irregular contractions of the ventricles. This makes a person with atrial fibrillation have an irregular and unusually high heart rate.
There are three types of atrial fibrillation: paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, persistent long-standing atrial fibrillation and long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation. Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia wherein the fast heart rhythm begins suddenly and then also suddenly stops on its own. This type arrhythmia commonly originates from the junction of the pulmonary veins within the left atrium. Persistent atrial fibrillation, on the other hand stops only when the patient receives treatment. Long standing persistent atrial fibrillation occurs when the arrhythmia can longer be restored to normal rhythm by various treatments. Atrial fibrillation can occur suddenly or may also occur just right after surgery. All of these types require prompt treatment.
Atrial fibrillation usually has its own signs and symptoms. A patient with atrial fibrillation may experience a faster-than-usual heart beat which is over 140 beats per minute. These patients may also feel other signs and symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, palpitations, breathlessness, chest pain, or low blood pressure. People with long-standing atrial fibrillation may have heart failure and disorders of the heart muscle. However, in some people with atrial fibrillation, there may be no signs and symptoms.
Atrial fibrillation may have various causes. It may be caused by older age, however it may occur in younger patients if they have an underlying heart condition. Atrial fibrillation can be caused by high blood pressure, diseases of the blood vessels of the heart, congenital heart disease, mitral valve disease of the heart, cardiomyopathy or diseases of the heart muscle, pericarditis or inflammation of the coverings of the heart, previous heart surgery, hyperthyroidism, sleep apnea, alcohol abuse, smoking, excessive caffeine consumption, atrial flutter and lung and chest conditions such as pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer, chest infections, pulmonary embolism and carbon monoxide poisoning. Atrial fibrillation is diagnosed by an electrocardiogram, holter monitoring, event recording, echocardiogram and other tests.
Alcohol and Atrial Fibrillation
A recent study done by researchers from the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center have found out that adding a little alcohol to minimally invasive therapies for atrial fibrillation can dull or stop the transmission of electrical impulses that cause atrial fibrillation. The results of this study were published in the online Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In this study, the researchers have found out that adding four or fewer injections of 98 percent ethanol to the catheter-aided radio wave ablation of nerve clusters near the vein of Marshall was enough to damage or kill the nerves. This eliminates the need to artificially trigger atrial fibrillation using electricity. The respondents were then examined for their blood alcohol concentrations and were detected to have no alcohol. There were also no complications.
To know more about other heart problems and their treatment, you can browse our other articles on this site.