How to Take Control of Atrial Fibrillation - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 09, 2015

How to Take Control of Atrial Fibrillation

If atrial fibrillation isn’t controlled, it may weaken
the heart, leading to heart failure.

Your heart has a big job to do: it pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body. It beats 100,000 times a day, pumping five or six quarts of blood a minute, which equates to about 2,000 gallons per day.

But sometimes your heart rate can become chaotic and irregular, causing poor blood flow to the body. This is called atrial fibrillation. When this happens, the heart’s two upper chambers beat rapidly and irregularly, and out of coordination with the heart’s two lower chambers.

When someone experiences atrial fibrillation, their symptoms may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness. Atrial fibrillation episodes can come and go, or they may not go away and require medical treatment. Even though atrial fibrillation isn’t usually life threatening, it is a serious condition that can sometimes require emergency treatment.

It can also lead to complications, blood clots forming in the heart, stroke or heart failure. The chaotic rhythm may cause blood to pool in the heart’s upper chambers and form clots. If a clot forms, it could dislodge and travel to your brain, blocking blood flow and causing a stroke.

If atrial fibrillation isn’t controlled, it may weaken the heart, leading to heart failure, which is a condition in which your heart can’t circulate enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

Since those complications can be life-altering and potentially fatal, treating and controlling atrial fibrillation is imperative.

If you have atrial fibrillation, treatment will depend on how long you’ve had it, how troublesome your symptoms are and the underlying cause, which is most commonly abnormalities or damage to the heart’s structure. The goal of treating atrial fibrillation is to reset the rhythm or control the heart rate and prevent blood clots.

Your doctor will do this with medications or other interventions that alter the heart’s electrical system. The treatment plan you and your doctor agree on depend on several factors, such as whether you have other problems with your heart or if you’re able to take medications to control your heart rhythm. Some cases of atrial fibrillation may require a more invasive type of treatment, such as surgery or medical procedures involving catheters.

Sometimes an event or underlying condition will trigger atrial fibrillation. These could include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Coronary artery disease
  • An overactive thyroid or another metabolic imbalance
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Lung diseases
  • Viral infections
  • Stress stemming from pneumonia, surgery or other illnesses
  • Sleep apnea
  • Congenital heart defects

Treating any of these conditions causing atrial fibrillation may help relieve the heart rhythm issues. In addition to any type of treatment your doctor recommends, you might also need to adopt lifestyle changes that improve your overall heart health.

Some lifestyle modifications include eating a healthy diet that’s low in sodium and fat, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, drinking alcohol in moderation, taking the medications your doctor prescribed and having follow-up appointments with your doctor.

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