Atrial Fibrillation

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (or AF as it’s commonly known) sounds like some complex medical terminology but it’s not, it’s simply a term that means an irregular heartbeat. Atrial refers to the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) and fibrillation can be defined as muscular twitching. In other words, the upper chambers of the heart twitch out of time with the regular heartbeat causing rapid and irregular beats. It’s thought that around one million people in the UK have AF.

Why is it important?

Sometimes AF is symptomless and so many people may be unaware they have the condition. It’s important that it’s diagnosed and treated because in some circumstances it can cause pooling of the blood in the upper chambers of the heart which can lead to clots developing. These clots can break off and travel to the brain increasing the risk of strokes.

Symptoms of AF

  • Asymptomatic
  • Sensation of palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to exercise

What are the risk factors?

The causes of AF are not well understood but it is thought to be linked mainly to heart structure and various risk factors such as:

  • Age
  • Other heart conditions
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol
  • Thyroid disease
  • High blood pressure

What is the treatment?

AF is commonly treated with medication which helps to control the heart rhythm. However, in more serious cases, it can be treated with a controlled electric shock to the heart (known as cardioversion)

which in effect resets which in effect resets the heart, or an ablation, which is where the area of heart muscle causing the AF is destroyed.