What Complications Accompany Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial Fibrillation or Afib is a relatively common condition and is somewhat more prevalent in men than in women. The most common symptom of afib is palpitations of the heart, usually an occasional faster than normal or erratic heartbeat. In some cases, individuals with afib are not even aware they have the disease. Generally, however, people experience certain symptoms such as a ‘racing heart.’

Many risk factors such as heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, being very overweight, high blood pressure, or having diabetes can contribute to the development of afib. In some cases, however, no specific direct cause can be identified, but in most cases, the incidence of afib is associated with other illnesses or heart health problems.

For individuals who are otherwise healthy, afib is not considered severe or life-threatening. Nevertheless, for individuals with associated heart conditions or other health issues, complications can periodically arise that are indeed serious and could require emergency medical attention. The most common problems stemming from afib are:

  • Increased stroke risk
    With afib, the heart may pump either erratically or faster than normal. This inefficient pumping action results in pooling of blood within the heart which can lead to the formation of blood clots. Should a piece of the clot breaks off, it could travel through the blood vessels and lodge in the brain, causing a stroke. Blood thinners and medications to regulate the heart are the first line of defense to reduce stroke risk.

      • Increased risk of heart failure

    The irregular and rapid heart rate cause the heart to work harder than normal so that a sufficient amount of blood circulates through the body. Over time, this extra effort tends to weaken the heart muscles and the associated vessels. This weakening can either begin a process of or accelerate heart failure.

      • Cognitive difficulties and dementia

    According to the NIH, studies have shown that older patients with afib tend to be more at risk for cognitive and memory difficulties. This may be due to the inefficient flow of blood through the body including to the brain.

      • Cardiomyopathy (a weakened heart unable to pump a sufficient amount of blood)

    The repeated irregular or rapid heartbeat due to afib can cause the heart and arteries to weaken from excess stress. This weakening along with the erratic heartbeat causes poor blood flow to the body. This can aggravate any heart failure as well as lead to other physical symptoms.

      • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, feeling faint, and shortness of breath.

    When the blood flowing through the body is either curtailed or interrupted, symptoms occur such as shortness of breath, feeling faint, chest pains, and general weakness. These conditions are due to the reduced oxygen the body receives due to the reduced blood flow.

    In most cases, individuals with afib will also have other medical issues such as heart failure, diabetes, thyroid conditions, high blood pressure, or sleep apnea. As a result, complications arising from afib can be serious. Should you have afib or believe you may have afib, you should make an appointment with Dr. Shanti Bansal, Houston’s top electrophysiologist at the Atrial Fibrillation Center of America. Dr. Bansal will conduct a complete medical exam, answer all your questions, and, if needed, develop a personalized treatment plan. Treatment for afib helps ensure complications do not arise and cause additional medical issues. Call our offices today and speak with one of our professional team members, 832-478-5067.

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