is a serious problem found in about 2 million Americans. The chamber
s of the heart
are meant to contract in sequence, upper then lower. If the atria (the smaller, upper chambers) quiver instead of contracting less blood is pushed into the ventricles (the larger, lower chambers) and the overall cardiac output is reduced. This may be totally without symptoms (asymptomatic) or it may lead to fatigue
. It may also lead to more serious arrhythmia including tachycardia
(heart beating too fast) or bradycardia
(heart beating too slow) or the ineffective and often fatal arrhythmia - ventricular fibrillation
(whole heart quivers instead of contracting).
Another problem that can occur because of atrial fibrillation is stroke. About 15% of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation. When the blood pools in the atrium instead of moving continuously on through the heart blood clots are more likely to form. The clots may eventually move through the heart and on to the brain. This shuts off further oxygenation to the area of the brain blocked by the clot and may cause brain damage.
Atrial fibrillation is more common in the elderly and is almost unheard of in people under the age of 20.
Atrial fibrillation can be asymptomatic until a stroke, heart attack or sudden death occurs. It is no wonder that insurance rates are affected by it despite the fact that the patient may have been unaware of it until the insurance physical. It is a like a time bomb.
Atrial fibrillation should be treated aggressively. Usually medication is given to reduce clotting and to stabilize the heart rhythm. High blood pressure may also need to be medically treated. With treatment, the risk of a medical disaster goes down.
Because my parents divorced and remarried I now have 4 elderly parents. 3 out of 4 of them have atrial fibrillation. This is a little unusual. My step-father just had an artificial pacemaker inserted to stabilize his heart rate. My biological mother and father are both medically treated for the condition. Perhaps of more general interest; this is the condition that the original President Bush suffered from.