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Atrial Fibrillation

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Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation – often shortened to AF – is the name for the particular type of arrhythmia; in fact it is the most common type of arrhythmia affecting about 70,000 individuals in Hong Kong. AF is most often described as “having irregular heartbeat”.

 

Rather than regular heartbeats, the heart beats in a disorganised and irregular manner which can lead to a range of symptoms and sometimes serious cardiovascular complications. The electrical causes of AF are not always clear but the chances of developing AF can be increased by several medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. AF can affect adults of any age, but is more common as people get older.

Although AF has not generally been considered to be life-threatening, it is a serious condition and can lead to serious complications.

Stroke

Because of the irregular heart beats in AF, blood clots can form. These clots may then be pumped into the lungs or to other parts of the body.

Clots that lodge in the brain can cause stroke. In fact, the risk of having a stroke is 5 times higher in people with AF than without AF.

Long-term damage to the heart

Over time, having an uncontrolled heart rate for long periods (weeks or months) can damage the heart by reducing its ability to pump as well as fulfilling its own needs. This can lead to long-term complications, such as heart failure and other heart conditions.

Increased chance of going to hospital

Having AF increases the chance of going to hospital. In fact, between 1 in every 3, and 1 in every 2, people with AF need to go to hospital as a result of their disease. Frequent trips to the hospital for repeated episodes of AF can disrupt the life, causing significant emotional and physical distress to the patient and the family.

Currently, there are two main strategies to control the irregular heartbeat, rate
control or rhythm control.

Heat rate control involves the use of medicines that slow down the heart rate by slowing the speed. Because the abnormal heart rhythm is still present, there is a chance of developing blood clots.

Heart rhythm control involves the use of medicines or other techniques to convert the abnormal heart rhythm back into normal rhythm. Medicines commonly used for this are called anti-arrhythmic agents – they stabilise the electrical activity in the atria of the heart to prevent AF episodes.

Updated January 01, 2008