A normal heart beats between 60 and 100 per minute when resting, but when someone has Atrial Fibrillation, this may be increased to over 140 beats per minute and may be irregular. You may detect this when caring for someone by doing a pulse check. In the heart of someone with this condition, the upper chambers of the heart (called Atria) contract randomly and so fast that they do not allow complete filling of the chamber and do not relax correctly between contractions, therefore reducing the efficiency of the heart.
There are about 500,000 people in the UK with the condition and it is the most common heart rhythm disturbance. The condition affects the person with a fast irregular heartbeat, out of breath, dizziness as well as other symptoms but in some people, it has no sign or symptoms. It can affect adults of any age but it is more common in older people and more in men than women. About 10% of over 75’s have the condition and the risk is increased in people who excessively smoke or drink. It is also more likely to affect people with high blood pressure, heart valve problems and other conditions.
There are different types of Atrial Fibrillation and they have different effects on the patient.
- Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation — this comes and goes and usually stops within 48 hours without any treatment
- Persistent atrial fibrillation – this lasts for longer than seven days (or less when it is treated)
- Longstanding persistent atrial fibrillation – this usually lasts for longer than a year
- Permanent atrial fibrillation – this is present all the time and there are no more attempts to restore normal heart rhythm
Although uncomfortable at times, someone with Atrial Fibrillation can lead a normal life and the condition can be controlled with medication but it does increase their risk of Stroke. Treatment can vary depending on the person but includes medications to control the Atrial Fibrillation, medicines to reduce the risk of a stroke, cardioversion (electric shock treatment), catheter ablation or having a pacemaker fitted.