Atrial fibrillation, commonly known as Afib, is one of the most common types of irregular heart rhythm, or “arrhythmia.” On Mercola.com, Dr. Joseph Mercola explains the signs of Afib that can help you recognize it. He writes:
In a healthy heart, contractions occur about once per second at rest. During Afib, however, this increases significantly. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine:4
“In a person with Afib, faulty electrical signals make the atria contract irregularly and much faster than normal. The atria then get out of sync with the ventricles. Blood can pool in the atrium, which may lead to blood clots and strokes. Afib that causes the lower chambers to beat too quickly can cause heart failure. Afib may occur occasionally, or it can be constant.”
A normal heart beats 60 to 150 times per minute. But during Afib, the atria may contract 400 or more times a minute. “The ventricles become overwhelmed trying to keep up with the contractions. They beat faster than they should, and they may not have time to fill with blood and pump blood normally,” Johns Hopkins explains. There are three types of Afib:
- Paroxysmal Afib, which happens intermittently and resolves on its own within seven days.
- Persistent Afib, which persists for more than seven days. Electric shocks known as cardioversion may be necessary to get the heart beating normally again.
- Long-standing persistent Afib, which persists for more than one year.
What Are the Signs of Afib?
Because atrial fibrillation causes your heart’s upper and lower chambers to work out of sync, your heart may not be able to pump blood to your lungs and elsewhere in your body effectively. Lightheadedness, dizziness and fatigue can result, as can chest pain.
Afib may also feel like your heart skipped a beat or is fluttering or pounding in your chest. It can lead to blood pooling in your chest, increasing your risk of blood clots that may lead to stroke.
The condition is also known to cause heart disease and worsen the condition if it already exists, but sometimes Afib causes no symptoms at all — making diagnosis difficult.5 When symptoms do occur, atrial fibrillation may lead to:6
Angina, or chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart Dizziness Fainting Fatigue Palpitations Weakness Shortness of breath Blood clots Heart failure Stroke
Afib Risk Factors
Your risk of atrial fibrillation increases with age. While it’s estimated that 2% of the general population worldwide suffers from Afib, this increases to 10% to 12% of those 80 and over.7
Inflammation and oxidative stress play a role in problems with atrial structure and “electrical remodeling” that may contribute to Afib, but, as noted in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, “Undoubtedly, aging constitutes the primary factor responsible for the pathogenesis of the arrhythmia.” Known Afib risk factors include:8
Age over 50 years Excessive alcohol use High stress levels Heart failure High blood pressure Male sex Obesity Sedentary lifestyle Sleep apnea Poor sleep Tall height Thyroid disease
While genetics is also thought to play a role, especially when Afib occurs at younger ages, lifestyle changes may also influence the condition.
“Obesity, excessive alcohol use, and obstructive sleep apnea are all known to contribute …” the International Journal of Molecular Sciences researchers noted.9 “As such, lifestyle and dietary modifications including weight loss, alcohol reduction, and cardiometabolic risk factor management would be a cornerstone for AF prevention.” This includes:10
Maintaining a healthy weight Avoiding excess alcohol Being physically active Managing stress Not smoking Consuming heart-healthy foods
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