Considering atrial fibrillation disrupts your heartbeat, you may be surprised to learn that the condition alone isn’t usually life-threatening.
But atrial fibrillation causes potentially deadly complications like a stroke. If you have atrial fibrillation, your chances of suffering a stroke are five times higher compared to people who don’t have the arrhythmia.
Our team at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute has helped many patients prevent atrial fibrillation and its complications with whole-person care that supports their long-term heart health. Here, we give you the rundown on atrial fibrillation and how it can threaten your life.
Atrial fibrillation is a heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that causes rapid, chaotic muscle contractions in the heart’s upper chambers. Instead of producing strong muscle contractions, the upper chamber muscles flutter. That means blood can’t flow through your heart properly.
The sluggish blood flow caused by atrial fibrillation allows blood to pool, especially in a pouch-like area of the left upper chamber called the left atrial appendage. Blood thickens when it slows or pools, creating the perfect environment for blood clots to develop in the appendage.
Atrial fibrillation on its own doesn’t usually cause a heart attack. But if you have atrial fibrillation together with other cardiovascular conditions, especially coronary artery disease (clogged arteries) and high blood pressure (hypertension), your chances of having a heart attack increase. Unfortunately, these conditions frequently occur together.
Atrial fibrillation causes two serious complications, stroke and heart failure:
Atrial fibrillation can pose a serious threat to your life by causing a stroke. In fact, at least one-third of people diagnosed with atrial fibrillation have strokes. A stroke occurs when a blood clot caused by atrial fibrillation leaves your heart and travels to your brain. The blood clot can easily block the artery, causing a stroke.
Heart failure (congestive heart failure) occurs when your heart can’t pump enough blood to your body. Atrial fibrillation prevents heart muscles from contracting with the strength needed to push enough blood through your heart and out to your body. As a result, people with atrial fibrillation are three times more likely to develop heart failure.
You could also develop heart failure first, and then it increases your risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Heart failure is often caused by heart inflammation, blocked coronary arteries, and high blood pressure. Heart failure also increases your risk of serious complications like kidney failure, fluid buildup in your lungs, stroke, and death.
In the United States, 3 to 6 million people have atrial fibrillation. You can avoid being one of them if you recognize your risks and take steps to lower them.
The major risk factors for atrial fibrillation (and heart failure and coronary artery disease) include:
When you come in, we can do a risk assessment and a heart screening with an in-office electrocardiogram (EKG). Then we create a customized treatment plan that helps you prevent heart disease and its complications.
If you have any questions about your heart health or how to prevent heart diseases like atrial fibrillation, call Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute or book online today.