The heart is the center of our circulatory system. It works tirelessly to pump blood throughout the body. Oxygen rich blood is utilized by every cell of the body to carry out their functions. However, sometimes our heart encounters certain challenges that may give rise to various conditions, one of which is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). Ongoing clinical trials are being conducted across the USA to provide valuable insights into advancing treatment strategies for this cardiac condition. Consider participating in these AFib clinical trials for a healthy heart and healthy life.
To get to know what AFib is let’s take a closer look at how the heart works and explore the factors that can lead to the development of this condition.
Understanding Heart Function
The heart comprises of four chambers, with two atria (right and left) and two ventricles (right and left). During each heartbeat, the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) contract first, followed by the contraction of the two lower chambers (ventricles). This coordinated sequence allows the heart to operate as an effective pump. The timing of these contractions is regulated by the heart’s electrical system, involving the sinoatrial (SA) node and atrioventricular (AV) node. The SA node present in the right atrium initiates an electrical impulse that spreads across both the right and left atria, causing them to contract and propel blood into the ventricles.
The impulse then travels to the atrioventricular (AV) node, situated in the middle of the heart. From the AV node, the impulse continues to the ventricles, prompting their contraction and facilitating the pumping of blood from the heart to the lungs and the rest of the body. This cycle repeats with each heartbeat, and the SA node plays a crucial role in maintaining the smooth and coordinated rhythm of the heart’s contractions. This process also ensures the continuous and efficient circulation of blood throughout the body.
What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?
Atrial fibrillation, also known as arrhythmia, is a heart rhythm disorder that occurs when the two upper chambers, that is the atria beat irregularly and does not fully contract or relax. This occurs because SA node is disrupted and numerous impulses are being sent rapidly at once, leading to a disorganized and accelerated rhythm in the atria.
Consequently, the atria are unable to effectively contract and pump blood into the ventricles. Due to this the blood doesn’t flow the way it should to the lower chambers, that is the ventricles. This inefficient pumping can result in blood remaining in the atria that can lead to the formation of blood clots. This condition can also give rise to other health issues such as stroke and heart failure.
Types of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
AFib is classified into three main types:
- Paroxysmal AFib: This type typically lasts for less than one week and often resolves on its own without the need for treatment because the episodes are intermittent.
- Persistent AFib: This form persists for more than one week and necessitates medical intervention for management and control.
- Long-standing Persistent AFib: Lasting for more than a year, this type of AFib can be challenging to treat and may require specialized approaches to restore a normal heart rhythm.
Triggers leading to Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
It is extremely important to understand the causes or triggers of atrial fibrillation so that it can be managed and prevented effectively.
The primary factor contributing to atrial fibrillation (AFib) is typically issues related to the structural aspects of the heart. These include:
- High blood pressure: Prolonged elevated blood pressure strains the heart and contributes to atrial fibrillation (AFib) by disrupting normal heart rhythm.
- Atherosclerosis: Hardening and narrowing of arteries due to plaque buildup increases the risk of AFib by disrupting optimal blood flow and affecting cardiac function.
- Heart valve disease: Malfunctioning of heart valves can lead to atrial fibrillation (AFib) by causing irregular blood flow and affecting chamber dynamics.
- Congenital heart disease: Structural defects present at birth may disrupt the heart’s normal function, increasing susceptibility to atrial fibrillation (AFib) over time.
- Cardiomyopathy: Weakening of the heart muscle during cardiomyopathy can contribute to AFib by impairing the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.
- Pericarditis: Inflammation of the pericardium, the heart’s outer lining, may lead to atrial fibrillation (AFib) by disrupting the heart’s electrical signaling and contraction processes.
The other factors that can trigger Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) include:
- Increasing age
- Sleep apnea
- Changes in body minerals
- Alcohol consumption
- An overactive thyroid
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
- Chest pain
- Irregular heart rhythm
Diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
- Physical Examination: That will include checking your heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure.
- Electrocardiogram: It records and measures the heart’s electrical signals, allowing healthcare providers to assess its normal rhythm.
- Echocardiogram (echo): It is used to visualize heart movement, identifying issues with blood flow and muscle contractions.
- Blood Tests: Blood tests are conducted to detect imbalances in thyroid hormones or mineral levels that could contribute to AFib.
Treatment Approaches for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
While treating atrial fibrillation the main goal is to regulate irregular heartbeats and reduce the risk of complications. For this purpose, treatment approaches employed are:
- Rate Control Medications: To prevent the ventricle from beating too fast.
- Rhythm Control Medications: To restore and maintain the normal sinus rhythm in the heart.
- Anticoagulant Medications: To minimize the risk of blood clots and strokes.
- Electrical Cardioversion: This method sends electric shocks to the heart to restore the heart rhythm.
- Chemical Cardioversion: This method employs the use of medications to restore the heart to its normal rhythm.
Surgery or Catheter Procedures
- Pulmonary vein ablation: This invasive procedure creates scar tissue around the pulmonary veins, reducing AFib episodes.
- Maze Procedure: Open-heart surgery creates a scar tissue pattern in the atria, redirecting electrical signals and effectively treating AFib, thereby improving life expectancy.
- Healthy Diet: Adopting a heart-healthy diet can help manage blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.
- Stress Reduction: Learning stress-reduction techniques helps control AFib symptoms, improving the quality of life and extending life expectancy.
- Regular Exercise: Performing regular physical activity can control AFib symptoms and improve cardiovascular health.
- Limit Alcohol & caffeine: Limiting the intake of alcohol and caffeine can limit the occurrence of AFib episodes.
It is clearly understood that atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular heart rhythm characterized by the rapid and chaotic beating of the heart’s upper chambers (atria). Its triggers include structural heart issues, high blood pressure, and various heart-related conditions. It poses a considerable threat to life expectancy when left untreated. Treatment options range from medications, such as anticoagulants, to procedures like cardioversion and catheter ablation.