The heart normally functions by contracting and relaxing to a regular beat every day. It pumps blood to the other parts of the body. If something goes wrong with the heart and the entire circulatory system, the entire body cannot function to its optimum. One of which is when the upper chambers of the heart, such as the atria, beat irregularly. This is called a quiver as the blood is not effectively moved into the ventricles.
When suddenly a clot is dislodged and enters the bloodstream. If this then lodges in the artery going to the brain, a stroke occurs. Around 15 to 20 percent of stroke patients are due to heart arrhythmias. This is the reason why these patients are prescribed blood thinners to avoid the risk of clot formation.
In the world, atrial fibrillation (AF) is one of the most frequently experienced arrhythmia by patients. It is associated with an increased morbidity rate, as it is linked to ischemic strokes. Untreated atrial fibrillation actually doubles the risk of cardiovascular deaths associated with a tremendous increased risk for stroke. And even with this, there are a lot of people who are not aware of its severity.
How does AF occur?
The heart is controlled by various electrical messages produced by the sinus node, commonly known as the heart’s natural pacemaker. These “messages” come regularly and instructs the heart to contract and pump non-stop, otherwise known as our heartbeat or pulse.
As the heart continues to pump and the pacemaker does its job, the upper chambers of the heart also send out electrical messages in an uncoordinated way. An irregular beat happens and makes the atria twitch or quiver, or also known as fibrillation. You may be able to recognize this as a fast heartbeat.
Atrial fibrillation may be classified as occasional, persistent, long-standing persistent and permanent. When symptoms come and go, it is usually referred to as paroxysmal or occasional, which lasts for a few minutes or hours until it stops.
Persistent AF occurs when the rhythm of your heart does not go back to normal anymore. You need to take medications or have an electrical shock to restore its rhythm.
Long-standing persistent AF is continuous and can last for more than a year. Lastly, permanent AF is an abnormal heart rhythm that regularly needs medications to control the heart rate.
If AF is not treated, it can lead to complications that are indeed fatal such as stroke and heart failure. A stroke actually depends on the age, history of family disease and medications are taken. Heart failure, on the other hand, is due to the weakening of the heart due to atrial fibrillation. This is when your heart cannot circulate enough blood to meet the entire body’s needs.
How do you know its AF?
While people experience different symptoms, there are some who never feel anything unusual until they undergo a physical examination. For those diagnosed with AF, here are the following signs and symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
The symptoms may seem like any other cardiovascular disease, but these are typical of atrial fibrillation. If you happen to have these, using a health app such as CareClinic in your Android or iOS will help you log in important details for your doctor. The app pretty much makes it easy for patients to chart and note the frequency of their symptoms.
Causes of AF
When the structure of the heart is damaged, atrial fibrillation is bound to happen. The following are known to cause AF:
- Heart attacks
- Coronary artery disease
- Abnormal heart valves
- Congenital heart defects
- Metabolic imbalance
- Exposure to stimulants
- Dysfunctional sinus node
- Lung diseases
- Viral infections
- Sleep apnea
- Previous heart surgery
Who is at risk of Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation occurs due to several factors. According to research, age has a bearing on AF. When you become older, this gives you a higher risk of developing the disease. If you have had cardiovascular disease in the past or someone in the family has a heart problem, this gives you a higher chance of getting atrial fibrillation. If your blood pressure is consistently high and you are not doing anything about it, chances of developing AF is high.
Alcoholics are pretty much at a higher risk in triggering an episode of atrial fibrillation, especially those who go binge drinking. Obese people are also more likely to develop AF, as well as those who have thyroid problems, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
If your doctor already suspects you might have atrial fibrillation, aside from medical history and physical examination, you may need to undergo the following tests to rule out the disease:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – this is the primary tool for diagnosing AF
- Echocardiogram – a non-invasive test which detects blood clots formed in the heart
- Blood exams – to rule out thyroid problems and other substances in the blood leading to AF
- Stress test – tests are run on the heart while doing physical activity
- Chest X-ray – imaging that best sees the condition of heart and lungs
Treatment options for AF
There are only three treatment goals of atrial fibrillation:
- To reset the rhythm or to control the heart rate
- To prevent blood clots
- To decrease the risk of having a stroke
You and your doctor may come up with the best treatment depending on the health data you placed in your app. For some manageable cases, medications will help a lot. For those needing a more invasive treatment, surgery is performed.
To reset the rhythm of your heart rate, cardioversion is done depending on the cause of atrial fibrillation. This may be done in two ways:
- Electrical cardioversion – an electrical shock is delivered to your heart through some patches placed on the chest
- Cardioversion with medications – antiarrhythmics are given to restore the normal sinus rhythm
Medications that are given after electrical cardioversion are as follows:
- Propafenone (Rythmol)
- Amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone)
- Sotalol (Betapace, Sorine)
To prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of having a stroke, anticoagulants are usually prescribed. These are also called blood-thinning medications:
- Warfarin (Coumadin) – This medication is to be taken with caution and doctor’s orders must be followed. If taken in large amounts, it may cause dangerous bleeding.
- Dabigatran (Pradaxa) – It is as effective as warfarin and does not require blood tests, though should not be taken with those having a mechanical heart valve.
- Rivaroxaban (Xarelto) – This anticoagulant prevents strokes and taken only once daily.
- Apixaban (Eliquis) – An anticoagulant as effective as warfarin
Aside from clinical procedures and medications, there are also things that you can do as a patient to alleviate the symptoms or even prevent complications of AF:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- A regular exercise reduces risks of getting a stroke
- Quit smoking
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels controlled
- Watch your weight
- Drinking alcohol moderately
Keep your heart healthy with CareClinic
As they say, prevention is way better than cure. Changing your lifestyle is a big step in having a healthy heart, but if you already suspect that you might have AF, installing CareClinic into your smartphone is a great start. This app lets you create a concise atrial fibrillation log. When you start to feel the symptoms, jot them down and also include the intensity and frequency of each symptom. This way, your doctor may see what is really bothering your heart.
Aside from tracking symptoms, the health app also sends medication reminders in pop up notifications or sound/vibrating alerts. You can scan the bar code of your anticoagulant or any medication with the built-in scanner and save it directly in the health app. Indicate the dosage and timing is important so that you will never miss a dose. These reminders are very accurate and helpful when you are on a strict therapy.
CareClinic also sends appointment reminders for that next visit to the doctor. A regular visit is important so that your doctor can monitor the activity of your heart. Aside from that, the app also keeps track of your blood pressure and weight, as well as INR lab results. CareClinic puts everything into place and you will no longer need a separate app to track other health measurements. That is the great thing about CareClinic- it holds every single piece of data in one place for convenience.
At the end of the week or month, you may print out the health results and dairy in a report. This is very essential when you are going to see your specialist very soon. He or she can see your progress, as well as the INR results you have been self-monitoring. This app helps doctors adjust or even change a treatment plan if there is a need to do so.
CareClinic pulls these insights on a clear chart or data sheet so that the doctor will know how to effectively manage your condition. Some cardiologists also use the app for the procedure called cardioversion, so that you will strictly adhere to taking your anticoagulant in the weeks prior to the procedure.
To get started tracking the symptoms of AFib, click here to sign up.