An arrhythmia is a complication with the rhythm or rate of the heartbeat (NHLBI 2). An arrhythmia can cause the heart to beat too slowly, too fast or to beat irregularly. Arrythmias generally disturb the electric rhythm of the heart and are often called palpitations. While there are many types of arrhythmias, they are generally classified into tachycardias, bradycardias and atrial fibrillations. Bradycardia occurs when the heart beats too slowly while tarchycardia is the result of a heart beat that is too fast. An atrial fibrillation (AF) is the result of an irregular heartbeat (MCC 45).
The subject of arrhythmias is very interesting in health sciences especially due to their prevalence among the elderly and of particular interest are atrial fibrillations. Atrial fibrillation is the most prevalent form of arrhythmia among the elderly (MCC 45). It is a risk factor for the occurrence of strokes.
This paper will explore the nature of atrial fibrillations. The causes and symptoms of AF well as treatment options will be discussed. This study was conducted using a comprehensive review of literature. Sources of this literature included books and online libraries like Proquest and EBSCOhost and reputable online sources. These are reputable sources which showcase work by peer-reviewed journals and books written by established medics.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a type of heart arrhythmia characterized by an irregular heart rhythm which is often rapid (Podrid and Kowey 67). Patients usually endure a fluttering sensation in the chest. AF may occur in various patterns. It may be persistent, intermittent or permanent. Persistent AF takes place in episodes which do not revert to normal spontaneously. It requires treatment to establish normalcy. Intermittent AF develops spontaneously but reverts to normal on its own. Permanent AF causes the heart to be permanently in this state. It does not revert back to normal own its own and may not be appropriate medically to revert it (Podrid and Kowey 70).
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is not always related to a heart disease especially in young people. This is called lone AF (Warren 23). Causes of AF which are unrelated to a heart condition includes:
Overactive thyroid gland- hyperthyroidism
Use of alcohol
Blood clot present in lungs –pulmonary embolism
Atrial fibrillation may also be caused by another cardiac condition. In this case, it is termed secondary AF (Warren 23). Causes include:
Heart valve condition-this may be congenital or caused by a degeneration of valves or infection
Cardiomyopathy-heart muscle disease
Pericarditis- inflammation of the heart sac
Coronary heart disease
Enlargement of heart walls (especially the left ventricle)
For those who experience AF, the episodes can be caused by various triggers. Examples include caffeine, alcohol and others. It is possible to reduce episodes of AF by avoiding any triggers if present.
Symptoms of AF
Symptoms which indicate AF vary from one person to the next. Some people do not manifest any noticeable signs. In the case of intermittent AF, the most common manifestation is palpitations (irregular, rapid heartbeats).Some also experience a fluttering sensation (irregular) in the chest. This may be accompanied by feelings of: faintness; weakness; chest pain; short breath; and general weakness (Leibovitch 28).
Treatment of AF
Treatment of AF will include a review of how severe the symptoms are and the duration of time they have been present. This is often done by a cardiologist. Treatment will be dependent on: the type of AF; symptom severity; underlying cause; and overall death (NHLBI 5).
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Leibovitch, Eric. "Stroke: How the latest advances in prevention and intervention can help you reduce the risk." Modern Medicine 62.2 (1994): 28. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.
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Nationl Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Arrhythmias. July 2009. Web. 10 April 2011. Available at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/arr/arr_whatis.html
Podrid Phillip and Kowey Peter. Cardiac Arrhythm: Mechanisms, Diagnosis& Management. Philadelphia; Lippincott Wlliams & Wilkins, 2001. Print.