Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase your risk for stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
During AFib, the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat irregularly and out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart. Symptoms of AFib generally include heart palpitations, weakness and shortness of breath.
According to the American Heart Association, episodes of AFib can come and go, yet some people may develop atrial fibrillation that doesn’t go away and may require treatment. Although atrial fibrillation itself is not usually life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that sometimes requires emergency treatment.
Treatment goals of AFib begin with a proper diagnosis through an in-depth examination by a physician. The exam generally requires questions about your family and personal health history as well as an electrocardiogram and/or echocardiogram. Based on your physician and your circumstances, other tests also may be ordered.
Atrial fibrillation treatment that is most appropriate will depend on how long you have had AFib, how bothersome your symptoms are and the underlying cause of your AFib.
After a patient is diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the ideal goals are:
- Restoring the heart to normal rhythm.
- Reducing an overly high heart rate
- Prevention of blood clots
- Managing risk factors for stroke
- Preventing additional heart rhythm problems
- Preventing heart failure
Avoiding atrial fibrillation and ultimately lowering stroke risk can be as simple as foregoing your morning cup of coffee. In other words, some AFib cases are only as strong as their underlying causes. If hyperthyroidism is the cause of AFib, treating the thyroid condition may be enough to make the AFib go away.
Doctors also can use a variety of different medications to help control the heart rate during atrial fibrillation.
The key is to work with your doctor to have a specific plan that is best for your individual situation should you be diagnosed with AFib.