Atrial fibrillation (AF) is one of the most common heart arrhythmias affecting at least 1% of the (ref. link) population. Atrial Fibrillation is caused by the abnormal functioning of the impulse conduction system of the heart. Essentially, arrhythmias are an irregular heartbeat that occur when the electrical signals that coordinate the cardiac cycle are disrupted. Atrial fibrillation belongs to a class called supraventricular arrhythmias, which refers to one that originates from the upper ventricular area. It is the most common cause of cardiac stroke. Studies (ref. link) show that the risk of ischemic stroke for people with atrial fibrillation is 3 to 5 times higher than for people without the condition.
Read on to learn about the warning signs of Afib and the reasons it may occur. In addition there’s a section highlighting its occurrence in athletes, and how continuous monitoring can be useful to understand and track episodes.
If you have experienced symptoms like these, it is essential to tell your doctor about them and ask about tests to determine if you have atrial fibrillation or any other cardiac arrhythmia.
The atria are the heart’s collecting chambers. Regular electrical signals help push blood efficiently from the atria into the lower pumping chambers (the ventricles). From the ventricles, blood is pumped to the rest of the body. In Afib, the electrical signals are fast and disorganised, with impulses ranging from 300 to 600 beats per minute (ref. link).
This causes a rapid and irregular heartbeat, and the heart may not pump as efficiently. While AFib can appear in a structurally normal heart, it can also be a sign of underlying cardiac conditions.
Atrial fibrillation is known to occur for varying lengths in different people. They may be categorized as:
Atrial fibrillation can occur at any age, but your chance of developing it increases as you grow older. As a result, AFib is most common in people over 65 years (ref. link). Other risk factors include high blood pressure, previous heart disease or heart surgery, chronic medical conditions like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease or lung disease, moderate to heavy alcohol use, obesity or obstructive sleep apnea.
There seems to be a unique relationship between exercise and AF. Studies (ref. link) show that people who exercised moderately seem to have a lower risk of developing Atrial fibrillation. On the flip side, those who participated in intense endurance sports had a slightly increased risk of Afib episodes.
Exercise-induced AF is usually seen in middle-aged athletes who have practised very intense endurance sports like marathon running, cycling or cross-country skiing for more than ten years.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, involving 70,478 participants, including 63,662 controls and 6,816 athletes, showed that the risk of AFib was 2.46 times higher among athletes than non-athletes.
Another study, from the European Society of Cardiology, observed that athletes were 5 times more likely to experience Afib than others in the study population.
Atrial fibrillation isn’t usually life-threatening or deemed serious in healthy people. Nevertheless, atrial fibrillation symptoms can be risky amongst those having diabetes, high blood pressure, or other heart-related diseases. Either way, the condition should be properly diagnosed and addressed by your doctor with appropriate atrial fibrillation treatment.
Athletes who train vigorously can have dynamic fluid shifts in the body, causing dehydration and changes in pH. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium may fall below normal levels, contributing to AFib.
After many years of high-intensity physical exercise, their heart muscles also undergo material changes that make them more susceptible to rhythm disorders. Stretching and remodelling of the heart, with dilation of the atrial chambers, and inflammation and fibrosis of the heart muscle are permanent changes that cause irregular conduction of the signals leading to irregular heartbeats.
The most widely used method of diagnosing Afib is an ECG. This may be through a standard 12 lead ECG, though it may not be the most effective as you must be undergoing an episode of Afib at the time of the ECG for it to be picked up. This method works well for patients in persistent or longstanding persistent atrial fibrillation.
However, if your episodes are intermittent, like in paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, they probably won’t be recorded on the standard 12 Lead ECG. Instead, doctors may use a small portable electrocardiogram device, a Holter Monitor, for 24–48 hours to try and capture an Afib episode on the graph. In some cases, these abnormal heart rhythms may be so sporadic that they may be missed on both. In these cases, long term ambulatory ECG recordings can help capture rare instances of irregular rhythm.
If it can’t be caught the conventional way, many people wonder, “How can I check for Afib at home?”
A regular heart monitor that captures only heart rate will not be adequate. Since the frequency of episodes of atrial fibrillation may increase on physical activity or exercise, a resting ECG probably won’t fit the bill either. Continuous monitoring of ECG using ECG wearables may be the perfect solution!
Consider buying Fourth Frontier’s revolutionary ECG fitness tracker that helps in keeping track of your heart rate.
*The information contained in this blog is provided on an as-is basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy or usefulness. The content in this blog is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content is meant for informational purposes only. This blog contains copyright material, the use of which has not been specifically authorised by the copyright owner.
The first-line of treatment for rate control in AF are Beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers. They are effective at rest and with exertion. Intravenous diltiazem or metoprolol is the most commonly used for AF along with a rapid ventricular response.
Doing things like drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, or being overweight and drinking lots of caffeine can trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation.
The most noticeable sign of atrial fibrillation is heart palpitations. The heart feels like it’s pounding, fluttering, or pulsating irregularly, often for a few seconds or perhaps a few minutes.
Though AF is a long-term condition, if addressed properly you can live a long and active life. Several decisions can help you control the condition, reduce your chance of stroke, and reduce any anxieties you may have.
Some natural ways that can be helpful in atrial fibrillation are:
Other Heart Health Topics To Explore:
Atrial Fibrillation Heart Rate | Endurance Training | Heart Rate Monitor Device | Exercise for Heart Health | Resting Heart Rate | Heart Health | Best Heart Rate Monitor. | Increased Heart rate | Irregular Heartbeat causes | AFib and Heart