Aren’t you just tired of hearing that line on TV commercials? “Atrial Fib”; What is that anyway?
The normal heart has an electrical pathway that starts in the upper part of the heart at the Sino-Atrial Node (or S-A Node), goes through the node between the upper and lower chambers of the heart called the Atrial-Ventricular node (A-V Node), then out to the rest of the electrical system in the lower part of the heart called the Purkinje fibers. This electrical activity causes the top part of the heart to pump (contract) pushing blood down to the lower part of the heart, and as the electricity flows, it will cause the lower part of the heart to contract pushing the blood out into the body.
When Atrial Fibrillation (A. Fib.) happens, this electrical pathway is interrupted by many electrical spots (what we call foci) shooting off around the upper heart, not at the S-A Node like it supposed to. So many are shooting off at different times, it causes the atria (top part of the heart) to kind of quiver, rather than contract and squeeze the blood into the lower part of the heart. Only some of those rapidly firing electricity gets through the A-V Node and out to the lower part of the heart, that causes it to contract irregularly, not in an even pattern like it normally does.
So, now you have the top of the heart quivering, the lower part of the heart not contracting on a regular basis, and now the blood isn’t flowing right. Because the top part of the heart is not contracting right and not kicking the blood normally into the ventricles, the ventricles have less blood to push out into the body and brain. The person can become light headed and their blood pressure may drop.
This can actually be life threatening when it initially happens and needs to be treated right away. The best way to treat it is to put the heart back in its normal rhythm. Many times this can be done with medication in the emergency room; sometimes it is done with the defibrillator (electrical shock) that actually sends a low dose electrical shock through the heart and stops it, and allows it to restart normally.
However, if this has been going on for a day or more, sometimes blood clots form in the quivering area of the heart and one runs the risk of shooting clots into the heart or lung when it converts back to a normal rhythm. Some people have to be treated chronically with blood thinners such as Coumadin or Xeralto, and medication to control the heart rate and make it pump strong such as Digoxin or Amiodorone. These patients may have to live with Atrial Fib the rest of their life, which could be a long time; it is treated chronically for many patients.
But back to “not caused by a heart valve problem”. Some of the various causes of Atrial Fib include damage to the structures of the heart (heart valves); but also can be a side effect of heart surgery or heart attack. Other causes also include metabolic imbalances, thyroid gland problems, viral infections, medications, pneumonia, stress, sleep apnea and congenital heart defects.
You can reduce your risk of Atrial Fibrillation. Decrease or eliminate the use of alcohol, caffeinated products, tobacco and medication that may act as stimulants.
If you feel a new fluttering/pounding in your chest, or new irregular heart-beat, or unusual light headedness, you should probably seek help at your local Emergency Room. A simple EKG (Electrocardiogram) can identify Atrial Fibrillation right away.