Atrial Fibrillation In Seniors

Atrial fibrillation is a type of common heart condition that is characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm. It involves the two upper chambers of the heart beating out of coordination with the heart’s two lower chambers. This condition can usually be identified by taking the pulse or closely observing heartbeats that do not occur at regular intervals. Atrial fibrillation can become increasingly common in seniors.

Causes of atrial fibrillation

The cause of atrial fibrillation is due to the four chambers of the heart not being able to move in coordination. In order for the blood to circulate, the heart muscles must be able to contract and relax in a coordinated manner. This is made possible by the electrical signals that pass through the heart muscles.

In the case of atrial fibrillation, the two upper chambers of the heart receives chaotic electrical signals which causes it to beat rapidly. The heart rate in atrial fibrillation can average from 100 to 175 beats per minute. The normal heart rate is between 60 to 100 beats per minute.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Generally, atrial fibrillation is asymptomatic in itself. The condition itself is not life-threatening. The symptoms that show usually are associated with the effects of having a rapid heart beat. People with atrial fibrillation may feel weak and lightheaded. Other symptom associated with a rapid heart beat is confusion, shortness of breath and chest pain.

How atrial fibrillation is diagnosed?

In order for doctors to diagnose atrial fibrillation, a series of tests may be needed. An electrocardiogram or ECG test might be needed to measure the electrical impulses given off by the heart. Blood tests may also be taken to help doctors rule out thyroid problems or certain abnormalities in blood chemistry.

The use of a Holter machine may also be used to record a patient’s heartbeat. This portable machine can be used to record a person’s heartbeat for about a day or two as he or she goes about doing normal activities.

At the point of feeling symptoms, the patient can press a button to help doctors figure out the heart rhythm present at the moment of the experienced symptoms.

Complications

Although the presence of atrial fibrillation may not be life threatening, leaving it untreated can lead to a variety of complications.

People with atrial fibrillation are at a higher risk of experiencing stroke since the chaotic rhythm of the atria can cause the blood to form clots. Atrial fibrillation can also cause the heart to weaken and may lead to heart failure if left untreated.

How to treat atrial fibrillation?

Treating atrial fibrillation may require the use of certain medications as well as other procedures. One method involves trying to reset the heart’s rhythm through cardioversion. Cardioversion using drugs usually make use of anti-arrhythmics to help restore heart rhythm. This can be done either intravenously or orally, depending on a patient’s condition.

Cardioversion can also be done with the use of electric shocks. In this procedure a patient under anesthesia is applied with electric shocks using either paddles or through patches placed on the chest. The aim is to stop the heart’s electrical activity for a split second, hoping that it returns to a normal rhythm once it returns.