Atrial fibrillation is an irregularly fast heart beat, or tachycardia, that affects the body’s circulation. As a form of cardiac arrhythmia, the condition can affect patients of all ages, particularly the elderly. Cardiac arrhythmia describes any problem that changes the rhythm of how the heart beats. Heart doctors generally look for warning signs and symptoms in order to provide their patients with the correct atrial fibrillation treatment.
Atrial Fibrillation Overview
The problem begins when the atrioventricular node overloads with impulses received from the upper chambers. When the upper chambers beat erratically and out of sequence with the lower chambers, people tend to experience irregular heart rates. Normal heart rate for adults is between 60 to 100 beats per minute. During atrial fibrillation, or atrial tachycardia, the heart rate increases to 100 or more. This irregularity can interfere with the heart’s ability to circulate sufficient blood. If doctors diagnose patients when they first experience increased heart rates, atrial fibrillation treatment may be used.
Atrial fibrillation can form from medical problems. Major medical conditions that may cause this type of tachycardia:
- Heart attack, disease or other cardiac-related conditions
- Overactive thyroid conditions
- Infections caused by viruses
- Cardiac surgery
- High blood pressure
Warning Signs and Fibrillation Symptoms
Some people may not feel any type of symptoms, while others do. Those who do experience signs may ignore the warnings. They may not seek medical care if their fibrillation symptoms go away after taking over-the-counter medications or getting rest. This may not be a good idea if the symptoms reoccur often. For those who seek medical expertise, their primary physicians will closely examine their symptoms before possibly referring them to an experienced cardiologist.
What to look out for:
- Heart palpitations that seem out of control
- Feeling tired or exhausted
- Confusion, feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Inability to catch breath while active and not active
- Chest pain or discomfort
Atrial Fibrillation Treatment
After examining and evaluating patient symptoms, cardiology doctors may prescribe several innovative atrial fibrillation treatment options to reset the heart’s rhythm. The treatments may be extensions of an underlying condition or specific treatments for atrial tachycardia. Patients must prepare to undergo extensive examinations to determine the best course of action.
Cardiologists may try medications, specifically designed for atrial fibrillation or to prevent blood clots. Medications can change the heart’s rhythm to a normal beat. These types of drugs are called anti-arrhythmic because they change how fast, slow or irregular the heart beats. For potential problems of blood clotting, blood thinners may be used.
When medication does not work, treatment management may involve the use of cardio inversion. This procedure restores the heart’s rhythm with the use of shock treatment. Heart doctors typically place special paddles or some type of patches on their patients’ chest. They use device to transmit electrical waves into the heart.
Another method utilizes catheter radiofrequency ablation. Physicians, called electrophysiologist, insert a tube into their patients’ veins found in the arm, neck or groin. This procedure calls for the use of extreme caution due to the complex nature of having to navigate through delicate veins. Surgeons use radio waves to create heat, which destroys damaged heart tissue.
Some cases of atrial fibrillation require doctors to place a pacemaker inside their patients. Pacemakers can steady the heart’s beat by decreasing or stopping any irregularities in the atria. If this does not work, an indepth surgery called maze heart surgery may be an option. Maze heart surgery requires surgeons to strategically place small cuts into each atrium. After doing this, doctors use stitching to close up the incisions. This procedure may stop the irregularity completely or slow it down by blocking the atria’s erratic electrical signals. Atrial fibrillation treatment is for patients who do not have any other options for improving.
Atrial Flutter Treatment
A similar condition to atrial fibrillation is called atrial flutter. This condition’s erratic rates range from 250 to 350 beats per minute. Although it can begin on its own, atrial flutter may lead to atrial tachycardia. It may also cause other problems, such as blood clots and weakened heart tissue. Atrial flutter has the same symptoms and signs as atrial fibrillation. Doctors may prescribe blood thinners to prevent clots, and to decrease the heart’s rate and rhythm. Catheter ablation is another option if medication does not heal the problem.
Fibrillation Treatment Costs
Medicare covers about 75 percent of atrial fibrillation treatment costs for the elderly. Patients who also have private insurance may fair better than those who do not. Chronic heart conditions like atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter can run over $20,000 for people who need atrial fibrillation treatment. An estimated annual cost is well over $6 billion and continues to rise as the elderly population does. But with the success of treatments used today, doctors see an increase in their patients’ quality of life and response to treatment.