Heart all aflutter? Take it seriously. It could be the wake-up call to a serious condition called atrial fibrillation.
During atrial fibrillation, the heart’s atria, which are two small upper chambers, quiver instead of beating effectively. This may mean that blood isn’t pumped completely out of the atria and instead may pool and clot. If part of a blood clot leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke may result. Your chances of having a stroke are five times as great if you have atrial fibrillation.
An estimated 2.2 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. It's the most common serious heart rhythm abnormality in people over the age of 65 years. And according to researchers at the Rush University Medical Center, although men are slightly more likely than women to develop atrial fibrillation, women diagnosed with it carry a longer-term risk of stroke and premature death.
Some people with atrial fibrillation don’t feel a thing. Others, especially women, notice an irregularity almost immediately.
Symptoms may include:
•Racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat
•"Flopping," fluttering or thumping feeling in your chest
•Chest pain or pressure
•Difficulty getting your breath
•Fatigue during exercise
Treatments for atrial fibrillation may include:
•medications to slow down rapid heart rate
•radiofrequency ablation to destroy tissue that triggers abnormal electrical signals or to block abnormal electrical pathways
•surgery to disrupt electrical pathways
•atrial pacemakers to regulate the heart rhythm
For women, there may be additional considerations such as evaluating the risks and benefits of blood thinners, which are prescribed more frequently for women; being aware of hormonal fluctuations that may affect the heart rhythm; and monitoring potassium levels.
Managing Risk Factors
If you have atrial fibrillation, you will be well served to also manage other risk factors:
•lower high blood pressure
•manage cholesterol levels