Atrial fibrillation (afib) has many causes and can lead to serious symptoms, but with the right medications and lifestyle changes, you can live a normal life. Dr. Layth Saleh explains more.
In the normal heart, the heart is composed of four different chambers, two bottom ones that are the ventricles and two top ones that are the atria. With normal rhythm at resting state, people have a heart rate of about 60 to 100 beats per minute, which starts in the right, in the top right chamber, which is the right atrium. And then it goes down to the bottom. With atrial fibrillation, there’s a problem that actually overtakes that normal rate and instead of going at 60 to 100 beats per minute in the top chambers, it goes to 300 and 350 and 400 beats per minute.
There is more than one way that afib negatively affects the heart. First of all, you lose your normal atrial function. And that is, that adds about maybe 15, 20% of your heart efficiency or the pumping efficiency of the heart. And then the second thing is with a heart rate that is fast, you could actually affect the function in the bottom part of the heart. Ejection fraction is what we call it, which is the amount of blood that the heart pumps each beat. It goes from a normal of about 65 or 70% down to maybe 40, 30, 20% sometimes. It actually causes heart failure.
On the very basic level to get afib, your heart probably has some abnormality. Most of the time that involves some scarring in the heart. An enlarged left atrium for any reason could cause afib so things like high blood pressure that’s not treated, valvular heart disease, heart valves that are diseased, that are not treated. Things like thyroid disease, lung disease could cause afib. Some medications if they’re taken in excess or if they’re not monitored well can cause afib. A lot of things can cause afib.
Atrial fibrillation, unfortunately is like I said, a burdensome disease that at this point is a chronic condition and it’s not curable. However, even though we can’t say that we can cure it today, we can absolutely manage it. It is a very manageable disease and with a good relationship with your cardiologist, as well as a good healthy lifestyle as far as your diet, your exercise regimen, weight management and treatment of other conditions that could actually be contributing to afib like diabetes, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, then you can live a very normal life.
My name is Layth Saleh and I’m a cardiac electrophysiologist.