Atrial Fibrillation (AF) occurs when the electrical impulses, which power the heart, are uneven. This causes the heart to beat irregularly. A heart with AF works harder, but pumps less blood. This can cause blood to pool in the atria, leading to possible stroke.

Who is at risk?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common thromboembolic condition that affects at least 2.3 million adults in the United States. It primarily develops in people over the age of 65. Patients with high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as those born with heart defects, have a greater risk of developing AF.

Other risk factors include:

  • Lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Inflammation around the heart
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Metabolic syndrome (Obesity and Diabetes)
  • Alcohol Abuse

What are the signs and symptoms?

It’s important to know the signs of AF, so that it can be treated as soon as possible.

The signs and symptoms of AF include:

    • Heart palpitations
    • Rapid irregular heart rate
    • Low blood pressure
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Feeling light headed or dizzy
    • Weakness
    • Fatigue (tiredness)

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention.

How is AF diagnosed?

There are several tests that can be done to check for a fast or irregular heartbeat. These tests include:

  • Electocardiogram (ECG)
  • Holter monitor
  • Mobile cardiac monitor
  • Event monitor
  • Echocardiogram
  • Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE)
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Stroke Risk

Patients with AF are at risk for developing blood clots in their heart, which can lead to stroke. About 15 percent of all strokes are caused by blood clots that develop because of AF, but these strokes can often be prevented.

80 percent of strokes caused by AF can be prevented by anticoagulant therapy. Anticoagulant drugs, also known as blood thinners, stop the blood from clotting in the heart. Doctors use a scoring system called the “CHADS-VASC” to determine if an AF patient is at risk for stroke. The CHADS-VASC score that patients receive rates a patient’s risk for suffering a stroke based on; Congestive heart failure, Hypertension, Age ( > 65 = 1 point, > 75 = 2 points), Diabetes, previous Stroke/transient ischemic attack (2 points). VASc stands for vascular disease and sex (female gender). Doctors will often prescribe anticoagulant drugs if the patient scores a 2 or higher.

Calculate your risk here.