A Fib Part 3: Welcome to the New Epidemic

Header-image-StephenBy Robert K Stephen

(TORONTO, ON) – Atrial Fibrillation is a cardiac arrhythmia. This means a heart rhythm that is not normal. Abnormally slow heartbeats are referred to as bradycardias while excessively fast heartbeats are tachycardias.

Atrial Fibrillation (A Fib) affects 1% of the population and about 10% of elderly people. A Fib is a type of tachycardia in which the upper chambers of your heart, the atria, quiver due to chaotic, uncoordinated electrical activity that wanders throughout the atria.

When A Fib becomes too fast your ventricles may beat rapidly and irregularly. Quite frankly your heart is running amok and attacks can last for hours leaving you weak and confused.

However, as terrifying as this initially may be, drugs can introduce a new normal, but at a cost.

And just what causes A-Fib?

About two-thirds of cases seem linked to some sort of underlying heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, or abnormalities in the pumping function of the heart. The remaining third of patients may have their A-Fib caused by an overactive thyroid, sleep disturbances, alcohol, caffeine, stimulant medications and drugs, lung disease, obesity, and genetics.

Lone A-Fib is a type of A-Fib found in younger patients where there is no identifiable cause of the condition.

Drugs enter the picture once a diagnosis of A Fib is made. Three types of drugs are used: a rate control drug will slow the heart rate, an anti-arrhythmic drug to restore your normal heart rhythm, and an anti-coagulation drug that thins the blood and reduces the risk of stroke.

A Fibbers are four to five times more likely to suffer a stroke than the general population, as the stopping and starting of the heart has the effect of creating blood clots that may get stuck in the brain and cause a stroke.

A stroke is a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by a lodged blood clot leading to deadly or debilitating consequences or, actually, none at all if the clot passes, un-lodged through the brain.

Symptoms of A Fib include:

  • Palpitations consisting of racing and uneven beats
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Decreased quality of life

Personal observations left me facing attacks lasting usually 6 to 7 hours with irregular heartbeat, light headedness, and a tremendous sense of anger and frustration, particularly with the inability of drugs to restore and maintain a normal rhythm.

All in all, expect a decreased quality of life while struggling throughout the day feeling dizzy and exhausted. Attempting to appear somewhat normal can be a massive undertaking of deception.

If there is any luck in this vicious cycle there are three recognized levels of A Fib, and I belong to the first level.

  1. Paroxysmal A Fib: It can spontaneously start and will usually end within 24 hours. Episodes can last a few seconds or few minutes, to a few hours, to a few days. I fell into this category and typically they lasted some 6 to 7 hours.
  2. Persistent A Fib: This can last more than a week and requires electrical shock to reset the heart.
  3. Long Standing or Persistent A Fib: Is a constant condition which may be terminated with cardioversion but will continue within a short time frame. This is the least likely to be responsive to any type of therapy.

Lighter on the scale, the more possible success with a cardiac ablation procedure is Paroxysmal A Fib.

Before we discuss the causes, or at least possible causes, of A Fib we might ask you if you have even head the term Atrial Fibrillation? If not, be prepared for an epidemic in the near future, of which suddenly you may be a victim.

It is anticipated that, by 2050, there may be an increase of 250% of A Fib. Why? Because, primarily it is a diseases of old age and the huge population of baby boomers is heading into old age.

I thought you might find what the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation has to say on A Fib.

It is estimated that atrial fibrillation affects 1 to 2% of the population. The prevalence of atrial fibrillation increases with age. (Go et al, 2001; Stewart et al, 2001)

Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia managed by emergency physicians and accounts for approximately one-third of hospitalizations for cardiac rhythm disturbances. (Fuster et al, 2006)

Hospital admissions for atrial fibrillation have increased by 66% over the past 20 years due to an aging population and a rising prevalence of chronic heart disease. (Friberg et al, 2003; Wattigney et al, 2003)

It is estimated 350,000 Canadians are living with atrial fibrillation. This number is an estimate because prevalence data is not collected for Canada. Numbers are expected to increase since the prevalence of atrial fibrillation increases with age, and Canada has an aging population.

About 6% of the population over 65 years of age and older live with atrial fibrillation. (Sacco et al, 1997)

After the age of 55, the risk of developing atrial fibrillation doubles with each decade of life. (Sacco et al, 1997, Benjamin et al, 1994)

Individuals with atrial fibrillation have 3 to 5 time’s greater risk for ischemic stroke. (European Heart Rhythm Association et al, 2010)

It is estimated that 20% of all strokes are caused by atrial fibrillation. (European Heart Rhythm Association et al, 2010)

Next: The risk of A-Fib

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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