As their names suggest, atrial fibrillation (AFib) and ventricular fibrillation (VFib) have something in common. Indeed, they both include the term fibrillation which, when speaking of the heart, refers to very fast and irregular contractions of the heart’s muscle fibers, i.e. abnormal heart rhythm called arrhythmia. But, what’s the difference between them? Read on to learn.
Main Differences between AFib and VFib
The main difference between these heart conditions is that atrial fibrillation isn’t immediately life-threatening, whereas ventricular fibrillation might be lethal if not treated immediately.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) induces abnormal electrical signals in the upper chambers of the heart, i.e. the two atria, resulting in irregular and rapid heartbeat. On the other hand, ventricular fibrillation (VFib) provokes abnormal electrical signals in the lower chamber heart muscles, i.e. ventricles. These signals are so irregular that the heart muscles become unable to pump blood effectively.
Main Similaritiesbetween AFib and VFib
Put shortly, both atrial fibrillation and ventricular fibrillation are types of heart disease characterized by an irregular heartbeat – arrhythmia. In addition, they can both be detected by ECG (electrocardiogram) and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) defibrillators. These machines can detect arrhythmias and deliver shocks, or electrical impulses, to the heart if needed, i.e. in a life-threatening situation.
What’s more, there are also some common medical issues or lifestyle choices that may contribute to AFib or VFib development, including cardiovascular disease, cardiomyopathy, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, alcohol consumption, drugs, metabolic imbalances, severe infections, stress, a diet abundant in animal fat, and increasing age.
How Do AFib and VFib Affect the Heart?
Before we explain how these heart conditions affect the heart, let’s first clarify how exactly the heart works. The heart is made up of four muscular chambers, two upper (the atria) and the lower (the ventricles).
The impulse starting heartbeat is first produced at the SA (sinoatrial) node making the right atrium contract and sending blood to the right ventricle. Then, the right ventricle sends blood to the lungs to eliminate carbon dioxide and return oxygenated blood to the left atrium. Next, the left atrium contracts to fill the left ventricle which then produces the pulse and sends blood under pressure (blood pressure) to the other organs in your body. And, with each heartbeat, the process is repeated.
Now, how do these arrhythmias affect the process and the heart? Atrial fibrillation is medically known as supraventricular tachycardia which means that the problem happens above the ventricles. That said, an irregular heartbeat is a result of abnormal electrical activity in the atria.
Oppositely, ventricular fibrillation happens when the electrical signal within the ventricular muscle tissue is so chaotic that leads to ineffective heartbeat, blood pressure, or pulse, which then may result in sudden cardiac death, if not treated immediately.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of AFib and VFib?
When it comes to signs and symptoms, atrial fibrillation and ventricular fibrillation are quite different. So, here’s a brief overview:
Atrial fibrillation may or may not present signs and symptoms. However, people with AFib can typically notice an irregular and rapid heartbeat, as well as fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, confusion, anxiety, chest discomfort, or pain.
The signs and symptoms of ventricular fibrillation are pretty short-lived and include sudden collapse, fainting, loss of consciousness, and no or weak erratic pulse. However, about an hour before the sudden collapse a person may notice certain signs and symptoms like dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, and tachycardia.
That said, if you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, ensure you seek immediate medical help to get the right treatment as soon as possible.