Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most common type of treated arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) causing irregular heartbeats. However, regular heartbeats are vital for the heart to function properly and supply blood throughout the body. Therefore, we can conclude that atrial fibrillation is a very serious condition.
Indeed, it can eventually lead to stroke, as it may cause a blood clot to break off and travel to the brain, thus causing a stroke. Or, it may also lead to heart failure as it weakens the heart and makes it unable to pump enough blood.
How Does Atrial Fibrillation Affect the Heart?
First and foremost, before we dig deeper into the common causes of atrial fibrillation, we must understand how this condition affects the heart. And, to be able to understand this, we must know how the heart works. So, let’s begin.
The heart is comprised of four muscular chambers, two upper called the atria and two lower called the ventricles. The flow of blood within these chambers and from the heart is controlled by the four valves. And, all the nutrients and oxygen are supplied through the coronary arteries that run along the surface of the heart, as well as by a web of nerve tissues that actually enable the rhythmic heartbeat.
The impulse, i.e. the electric signal, that starts the heartbeat is first produced at the sinoatrial node, making the right atrium contract and send blood to the right ventricle, which then sends blood to the lungs. Next, the lungs get rid of carbon dioxide and return the oxygenated blood to the left atrium which contracts and fills the left ventricle, producing the pulse and sending blood to other bodily organs.
And, when a person suffers from atrial fibrillation, the electric signals become chaotic and cause twitching or quivering of the atria making it unable to pump blood into the ventricles. That is, the problem happens above the ventricles, in the atria, which is why atrial fibrillation is medically known as supraventricular tachycardia.
But, what causes atrial fibrillation? Continue reading to find out the answer.
Common Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
This type of arrhythmia can be caused by different reasons. Yet, the most common causes include damage and abnormalities in the structure of the heart. Other medical conditions that may contribute to AFib development include:
- High blood pressure
- Chronic lung diseases
- Pulmonary embolism
- Heart attack
- Congenital heart disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Valvular heart disease
- Sleep apnea
Besides these medical conditions, there are also other factors increasing the risk of developing atrial fibrillation such as age above 60 years, obesity, having undergone heart surgery, stress, genetics, alcohol, and excessive caffeine consumption.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Some people suffering from atrial fibrillation, especially older people, don’t experience any symptoms of arrhythmia. They typically get diagnosed with atrial fibrillation after discovering the condition during other routine tests. In general, they believe that their tiredness and feeling lethargic is a result of aging, and thus don’t seek medical help. However, if left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke and heart failure, as we already mentioned.
Here’s a brief list of the most common symptoms:
- Heart palpitations
- A fluttering sensation in the chest
- Chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Excessive tiredness
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Fainting episodes
- General weakness
With that in mind, if you notice any of the above-listed symptoms of atrial fibrillation, ensure you contact your doctor before it’s too late.