Occasionally we ask complimentary organisations and charities to write information on their speciality. We will be posting 3 guest blogs from the Arrhythmia Alliance on Atrial Fibrillation (AF). We hope you get a lot from these posts as it is a condition that affects a large percentage of Heart Failure Patients. Anyway here goes –
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm disturbance encountered by doctors. It can affect adults of any age, but it is more common as people get older. In the over 65 year old age group, it affects about 10% of people.
Atrial fibrillation is not a life-threatening heart rhythm problem, but it can be troublesome and often requires treatment. It is also a leading risk indicator for stroke. If you have AF, you are five times more likely to experience a stroke. In 2007, Atrial Fibrillation Association (AFA, www.afa-international.org ) was established as a patient support and information charity which offers medically approved and endorsed information for patients, carers and healthcare professionals.
Atrial fibrillation or AF, occurs when chaotic electrical activity develops in the upper chambers or atria, and completely takes over from the sinus node. As a result, the atria no longer beat in an organised way, and pump less efficiently. The AV node will stop some of these very rapid impulses from travelling to the ventricles, but the ventricles will still beat irregularly and possibly rapidly.
The cause of AF is not fully understood and men and women are equally susceptible to the disease. It is also age related – the older you become the more likely you are to develop AF. However, it is noted that AF is more likely to occur in patients who have other heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, mitral heart valve disease (caused by rheumatic heart disease, valve problems at birth, or infection) or Congenital heart disease (abnormality of the heart since birth) It can also be associated with thyroid gland disorders, carbon monoxide poisoning or alcohol or drug abuse or misuse.
While your risk of developing AF rises with the above mentioned problems, many people develop AF for no explainable reason. When there is no known cause this is known as ‘Lone AF’. AFA runs regular meetings and Patient Day events, details of which can be found on
Some AF patients do not experience symptoms, and the AF is only discovered at a routine medical examination or after a health problem. However, for those who do, the most common symptoms are:
•Palpitations, (or awareness of the heartbeat), which may be rapid
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
In early stages of Af, Atrial Fibrillation is often intermittent, meaning that it can come and go without warning. There may also be long spells between ‘episodes’. In fact, some people in this early stage of AF may not even be aware they have it.