Atrial Fibrillation - What Is
Atrial Fibrillation or Afib as I like to call it,
is the most common heart rhythm disorder and effects around 1% of
the population. Its becomes even more common with increasing age. It seldom occurs in those under 40 years old, but
occurs in up to 5% of those over 80 years of age. It's favorite age to strike
"my age" late forties to early fifties. I am 52; mine started when I was 51 but could have been happening for
months or even years unnoticed. It should be said Atrial Fibrillation is an electrical problem in the heart and not
a plumbing problem like a normal heart attack or blockage.Normal Heart
Electrical Activity and What Goes Wrong in Atrial Fibrillation.
The heart is basically a large muscular pump that drives blood
around the body. To do this correctly, the heart’s chambers, there are four of them, must be precisely controlled
electrically so they work together as one pumping unit. The normal heartbeat begins with the sinoatrial or Sinus
Node a natural pacemaker located in the top right heart chamber (the right atrium). This electrical pulse spreads
across both top chambers, the atria, causing them to contract. The contraction of the atria moves blood into the
two ventricles, which are the main pumping chambers. The electrical signal is delayed by about one tenth of a
second by a special structure called the atrioventricular (AV) node, and then spreads quickly across the ventricles
to cause them to contract. This extra filling of the ventricles by the atria is not vital, but does serve to
"prime the ventricular pump" and improve overall heart function.
These atria, which contain
the heart’s natural pacemaker, the SA node, are, the part of the heart involved in Atrial Fibrillation. The
ventricles, the muscular part of the heart that actually pumps the blood are electrically isolated from the atria,
and the only way the electrical signal can reach them is through the AV node.
heart rhythm is termed sinus rhythm (no, nothing to do with your nose)
Most people have a resting heart rate of between 60 and 80 beats per
minute. In Atrial Fibrillation, the atria contract rapidly and irregularly at rates of 400 to 600 beats
As luck (see
GOD) would have it, the AV node will not allow that many signals
through to the ventricles; only about 1 or 2 out of every 3 Atrial beats passes to the ventricles. Even so
the ventricles beat too fast, at rates of 110 to 180 beats per minute. (Mine was over 170!)
The Most Common Symptoms:
Feeling out of breath, reasonable
since your heart is beating faster than if you were running a marathon.
Heart palpitations (a sudden
pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the chest).
Lack of energy; feeling
Dizziness (feeling faint or
Chest discomfort (pain,
pressure, or discomfort in the chest area)
In my case - inability to sleep
Make It Slow Down!
The first thing you want to do is control the runaway heart rate. This is
done with drugs and even cardioversion. (similar to the crash paddles and electric shock as seen on T.V.) The
goal is to get the heart to beat in a unified, normal manner again. This is called Normal Sinus Rhythm and is
the Holy Grail that all us Afibbers want to achieve.
I have only touched on the simple mechanics of a complicated problem. Please
read the other articles as we go into greater detail and try to explain the real "nature of the beast" -