Living with Atrial Fibrillation
Your doctor says you've had an atrial fibrillation.
What does that mean? What should you do about it?
- What is atrial fibrillation (AF)?
- AF is a kind of heart attack called a cardiac dysrhythmia.
- For a brief time your heart lost its natural rhythm and did
not pump well.
- Why not?
- In a healthy heart, the electrical signal
that stimulates its muscles
comes from a single site and proceeds
in an orderly sequence.
During AF, multiple sites emit this signal.
The signal becomes chaotic and the
muscles do not work together.
While this is happening, the heart is
not pumping effectively.
- Who gets it?
- AF is seen in older adults.
- Is it dangerous?
- Yes. If it lasts for more than a very few minutes,
it can cause great damage by interrupting your body's blood supply.
It can be life threatening.
What's the treatment?
One possible intervention is a shock
with a device called an automatic defibrillator.
Two paddles are pressed to specific locations
on the chest and an electrical impulse is applied.
This helps a fibrillating heart return to its normal rhythm.
Must we hurry?
- Yes. Quick response is essential.
Following a sudden cardiac arrest,
each minute of delay reduces the survival rate by 7-10%.
- Are there long-term risks, too?
- Yes. AF is a risk factor for clots and strokes.
- What does it feel like?
- The sensations of AF are often described
as fatigue, fluttering in the chest, and shortness of breath.
What's the long-term treatment?
- In addition to regular checkups by your doctor,
lifestyle changes are indicated.
control your cholesterol through diet and exercise,
control your blood pressure,
minimize dietary sodium,
manage stress, and avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants.
- Are there drugs for this?
They include digoxin,
beta blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, propranolol),
calcium antagonists (verapamil, diltiazam),
sotalol, flecainide, procainamide, quinidine, propafenone,
- Atrial pacemakers are sometimes used.
Will I die?
- Of course. But if you're careful, not of AF.
Whom this pamphlet is for:
- Older adults
- Persons diagnosed with AF