In the U.S. alone upwards of 2.7 million people have this heart condition. What is it? It’s called atrial fibrillation and is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. Research has shown that the number of cases increases with age so as the population of the United States continues to age, the number of people affected is likely to rise. So what exactly is this condition, what symptoms does it lead to and how serious is it?

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation or, for short, AFib occurs when the heart beats irregularly, too fast or too slow. This can happen in episodes or can be a permanent condition. Because the upper chambers of the heart do not beat normally, often blood does not flow as efficiently to the lower chambers. What symptoms result from this?

  • Lightheadedness
  • Severe fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluttering or pounding heart

While many with AFib do experience one or more of these symptoms, others experience no symptoms at all.  Hence, they may not even know they have this condition. That leads to the question: Who is at risk?

Risk Factors For AFib

As was already mentioned, age alone puts one at risk. Those 65 and older are especially susceptible to encountering this issue, although younger individuals can experience it as well.  This is one more good reason why everyone, but especially the elderly, should have routine appointments with their doctor so they can catch things which are sometimes not symptomatic, but can nevertheless potentially cause much danger if not dealt with.  Because women generally outlive men, women are more prone to develop this type of heart arrhythmia. Additionally, individuals with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and so on have a higher risk. That leads to the question: What exactly is the risk?

Why It Requires Medical Attention

While it is not usually life-threatening in itself, it can cause blood clots. These clots can break off and travel to the brain. When these block an artery or blood vessel and blood flow to the brain is interrupted, a stroke is the result. The bad news is that a person with AFib is five times more likely to have a stroke!

On the other hand, treatment prevents 60 to 80% of AFib-related strokes. Needless to say, diagnosis and, more importantly, treatment after diagnosis are the keys. What kinds oftreatments might your doctor suggest if you are found to have atrial fibrillation?

  • Anticoagulants (medications that reduce the risk of blood clots, which lead to stroke)
  • Antiarrhythmic drugs (medications to regulate the heartbeat)
  • Devices that regulate irregular heartbeat
  • A procedure called cardiac ablation, which prevents abnormal electrical signals from traveling through the heart
  • Defibrillator (to prevent cardiac arrest in those with abnormally fast heart rates)

Increase AFib Awareness

In the end, anyone can fall victim to atrial fibrillation. Studies show that many people who are at risk are not getting the preventative treatments that they need. So through education and the raising of awareness, more people can be diagnosed and treated before a devastating health crisis arises.