Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a chaotic disorganised heart rhythm localised within the upper pumping chambers of the heart (the left and right atrium) but which disrupts the overall heart pumping sequence. The most common symptom is fast, irregular palpitation. Other symptoms include tiredness and shortness of breath. Atrial fibrillation may occur as an Isolated heart abnormality in which case it is designated ‘lone’ atrial fibrillation by doctors. Alternatively, atrial fibrillation may occur as a consequence of a number of other heart and general medical problems. High blood pressure and sleep apnea are conditions which are strongly linked with atrial fibrillation. Other conditions such as an overactive thyroid gland, heart valve problems and previous heart attack can cause or be related to atrial fibrillation. Being overweight increases the risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation can be exacerbated by excess caffeine or alcohol consumption. It is considered a capricious problem and often no clear cause is found.

What is AF?There are three broad categories of AF:
Paroxysmal:
Atrial Fibrillation is intermittent.
Persistent:
Cardioversion is required to restore normal rhythm (the AF does not spontaneously go away).
Permanent:
Doctors have decided to leave the patient in AF and to just control the heart rate.

HOW COMMON IS IT?

One or two percent of the population suffers from atrial fibrillation. The chance of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age (five percent of people over 65 and ten percent of people over 80 have atrial fibrillation)

IS ATRIAL FIBRILLATION DANGEROUS?

Atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for stroke and in very rare instances can lead to impaired heart pumping function. Atrial fibrillation may significantly affect quality of life but the severity of symptoms does not indicate any particular danger.

WHY DOES AF START?

No-one knows the answer to this question and there is extensive ongoing research to answer this question.We do know that the rhythm
disturbance usually starts as a result of extra beats (ectopic beats) from the pulmonary veins which attach into the back of the left upper
chamber of the heart (left atrium). This discovery was made in the Hôpital Cardiologique du Haut Lévèque, Bordeaux, France in the
1990’s. This was a critical discovery as it paved the way for effective catheter ablation treatments which are now commonplace. Once atrial fibrillation occurs, it may gradually become worse. This is because of a process called atrial remodeling. Atrial remodeling means that the heart muscle gradually becomes ‘addicted’ to atrial fibrillation and begins to prefer this rhythm to normal rhythm. Over time, patients may progress from paroxysmal to persistent then permanent atrial fibrillation. In its early stages, atrial remodeling can be reversed by drugs and catheter ablation to some extent. As remodeling progresses, atrial fibrillation can become more difficult to treat by catheter ablation.

For more information about atrial fibrillation and treatments download our patient brochure.

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