Atrial Fibrillation - Treatment
Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation
One of the conditions for the heart to contract at regular intervals and carry out its function, is the system of uninterrupted formation of electrical signals. If this system is damaged for some reason, the heart contracts irregularly, leading to a condition called arrhythmia. There are a number of types of arrhythmias that can affect the whole heart or only a section of it; fibrillation is one of them. Its manifestations and severity depend on whether the atria or the ventricles are affected. During atrial fibrillation, the muscle of the atria does not contract; the atria simply quiver uncoordinatedly and randomly, and are not able to perform their function completely. The uncoordinated quivering is a result of the inside of the atrial muscle forming uncontrolled electrical signals. These faulty signals can transfer to the ventricles as well, causing quick and irregular contractions that can be very dangerous. Atrial fibrillation is not necessarily acute and life-threatening, but is often accompanied by a range of long-term complications. Therefore it is important to treat atrial fibrillation.
Manifestations of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is manifested primarily by an irregular heartbeat varying in force, and heart palpitations. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and nausea. Dizziness, or loss of consciousness due to limited circulation of the brain, may occur as well. Some patients do not notice any symptoms of atrial fibrillation until complications arise, however, most individuals experience general symptoms that can be present with a number of other diseases; therefore during diagnosis it is important to always remember that atrial fibrillation is a possibility.
Emergency Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation
Not every atrial fibrillation needs to be treated, however if it is necessary, a number of treatment methods exist. Each treatment method is individual and a physician must consider a number of factors, such as necessity and affectivity of the treatment in the particular patient with atrial fibrillation. A healthy, young adult needs different treatment that an older patient suffering from other illnesses as well. Acute bouts of atrial fibrillation tend to be critical and dangerous for the patient, therefore the doctor need to inject antiarrhythmics into the veins, allowing the heart's rhythm to return to normal. In the event that this treatment is unsuccessful, the next option must be used; an electrical cardioversion. This is when electrodes transferring short electric shocks are applied, interrupting the heart's impulses, cancelling out all areas where the impulses form, and allowing the cardiac cells to obey the sinus node again.
Long-Term Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation
The first step in treating atrial fibrillation is the administration of medications that influence the electrical system of the heart. In their own way, these medications return the atria into a normal state, contracting at regular intervals. The second option is the attempt at maintaining normal contractions of the ventricles. Medications are usually very effective, though sometimes they can cause unwanted side effects. Additionally, their long-term use can reduce their affectivity. Fortunately medications are not the only hope for patients and in the case that this method of treatment is ineffective or is inappropriate for some reason, there are other options; such as a catheter ablation. This is where special flexible tools are introduced into the heart, called catheters. With their help, the doctors can get into the heart and create small burns in the areas where faulty electrical signals spread. The focus of this procedure is the interruption of these signals.
Consequences of Atrial Fibrillation
There are other, less common methods of treatment (such as surgery). All of them have their own advantages and disadvantages and are not necessarily suitable for every patient with atrial fibrillation. As mentioned above, atrial fibrillation comes with a relatively significant risk of developing blood clots. Blood clots can be subsequently expelled and travel into the vessels of the brain, causing a stroke, or into other arteries where their blockage could lead to infarction of the affected organ. It is therefore important for patients to take anticoagulants. However, this treatment is only preventative. To conclude, it is important to mention that nowadays, treatment of not only atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias, but also diseases affecting the heart, is at a very high standard in developed countries.