Ask A Nurse - Atrial Fibrillation


Cathy answers your questions about atrial fibrillation, such as: What is atrial fibrillation? What causes atrial fibrillation? What are the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation? How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed? and How is atrial fibrillation treated?

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 00:20 What is atrial fibrillation?
  • 1:03 What causes atrial fibrillation?
  • 1:38 What are the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
  • 2:05 How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?
  • 2:48 How is atrial fibrillation treated?

Full Transcript: Ask A Nurse - Atrial Fibrillation

Hi, this is Cathy with Level Up RN. In this episode of Ask a Nurse, I'll be answering your questions about atrial fibrillation, or AFib, as it is commonly called, such as what is atrial fibrillation, what are the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation, and how is atrial fibrillation diagnosed and treated? Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is an arrhythmia that causes the heart to beat irregularly. With AFib, the atria, which are the upper chambers of the heart, quiver instead of fully contracting and squeezing. When this happens, blood pools in the atria, and that pooled blood can form a clot, and then that clot can travel to the brain, blocking blood flow to the brain tissue, causing a stroke. Individuals with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke. So if you have AFib, it is super important that you receive treatment to prevent a stroke as well as other life-threatening complications.

Atrial fibrillation is caused by an issue with the electrical system in the heart or damage to the heart's tissues. Factors that increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation include a family history of A-fib, older age, hypertension, an underlying heart disorder, COPD, diabetes, and sleep apnea. In addition, obesity, heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, and stress also increase the risk for atrial fibrillation. Some people with atrial fibrillation do not have any symptoms or may only notice symptoms occasionally. When present, common symptoms include extreme fatigue or tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and heart palpitations, which is a feeling that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, pounding, beating too hard, or beating too fast.

Tests that may be ordered to diagnose atrial fibrillation include an electrocardiogram, or EKG, which is a procedure where electrodes are placed on the chest and the electrical activity of the heart is recorded. An echocardiogram may also be ordered, which is an ultrasound that looks at the internal structures of the heart and how well the heart is pumping. You may also be asked to wear a portable EKG monitor, which records the heart's electrical activity as you go about your daily activities. And then blood tests may also be ordered to check for abnormalities which may be causing AFib. Treatment of atrial fibrillation may include lifestyle modifications, medications, and/or procedures. In terms of lifestyle changes, your provider may recommend that you lose weight, limit alcohol consumption, increase your activity level, stop smoking, reduce stress, and adopt a heart-healthy diet.

Medications that may be prescribed include beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers to help slow down the heart rate, blood thinners to prevent the formation of a blood clot and to reduce the risk of a stroke, and antiarrhythmic medications to help restore a normal, steady heart rhythm. If lifestyle modifications and medications do not improve your symptoms, your provider may recommend a procedure or surgery to treat your AFib. Nonsurgical procedures include an electrocardioversion, which uses low-energy shocks to restore your heart rhythm, or a catheter ablation, which destroys the tissue in the heart which is causing the arrhythmia.

And then surgical interventions that are used to treat AFib include placement of a pacemaker if a slow heart rate is triggering A-fib, or maze surgery, which is a complex operation that involves the creation of scars in the atria, which in turn blocks transmission of electrical impulses that are causing AFib. All right. That is it for this episode of Ask a Nurse. If you have a health concern or question you would like me to address in a future episode of Ask a Nurse, be sure to leave it in the comments. Stay informed and stay well.

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