Atrial fibrillation is a severe medical condition characteristic of an abnormal heartbeat. The irregular response is due to erratic electrical impulses in the heart's upper chambers.
Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is an irregularity that can result in symptoms, such as heart palpitations, chest pain, and dizziness. However, some people may not experience any symptoms at all.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 33.5 million people are living with A-fib worldwide.
There are different treatment options for managing A-fib, including lifestyle changes, medications, and other nonsurgical options. While these treatments may help some people, they may not work for everybody and are not a cure.
Doctors may consider surgery if a patient's medications aren't working, and when nothing else has helped.
How is A-fib treated?
Treating A-fib involves preventing blood clots and lowering stroke risk. Other goals include controlling heart rate, restoring heart rhythm, and treating underlying disorders.
The first treatment for A-fib will be to live a healthful lifestyle and to quit smoking.
Lifestyle changes are the first treatment approach. People with A-fib should quit smoking, get active, and stay active, lose weight, and eat a healthful diet. Patients may also take medications to prevent blood clots, control heart rate, and restore heart rhythm.
Rate control involves managing the per minute contraction rate of the ventricles (two large chambers in the heart that help pump the blood).
The heart needs a certain amount of time to circulate the blood, and if it can work at a regular pace, people will experience fewer symptoms and will feel better. Restoring the heart's rhythm allows it to pump blood effectively throughout the body.
When medications aren't helping to restore regular heart rates and rhythms, the next step is electrical cardioversion.
Electrical cardioversion involves giving a person an electric shock outside their chest wall while they are under low-dose anesthesia. Like defibrillation, electrical cardioversion is designed to reset the heart rhythm. The only difference is that lower levels of electricity are used in electrical cardioversion than in defibrillation.
Whether this procedure is successful or not depends on what is causing the A-fib symptoms and how long the person has had them. Most people get their heart rhythm back right away, but cardioversion is not a cure.
If A-fib symptoms return, another cardioversion is carried out. When cardioversion is combined with medications, the heart rhythm can stay normal for longer, which could be up to a year or longer.
The risks of cardioversion include skin burns, fluid buildup in the lungs, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. However, the success rates for returning the heart to a normal rhythm during the procedure or shortly after are over 90 percent. The potential for success may outweigh the risks, but people should still discuss any risks with their doctors.