What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
Atrial Fibrillation is the most common type of heartbeat rhythm/heart rate problem or what we call arrhythmia. Arrhythmias cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow or with an abnormal rhythm. The heart consists four chambers, the two upper chambers called atria and the two lower chambers of the heart called ventricles. Atrial Fibrillation or AF may occur if there is sudden, disorganised and chaotic electrical signals on the upper chamber’s of the heart (atria). The chambers of the heart quiver and the AV node, the electrical connection between the upper and the lower chambers of the heart is continuously attacked with impulses that are trying to make their way through the ventricles.
The heart rate in atrial fibrillation ranges from 100-175 beats per minute. The normal heart rate range is 60-100 beats per minute. Atrial fibrillation can really cause the heart to work double its normal rate.
Fibrillate means to contract rapidly and irregularly. When AF happens, blood actually pools in the atria and is not pumped well into the ventricles (the two lower chambers of the heart). Result? The atria and the ventricles don’t function well as expected. When a person have atrial fibrillation, the symptoms are not always obvious and is usually discovered only during a physical examination or through a rigorous exercise program where one wears a heart rate monitor; hence AF becomes noticeable.
The person may feel chest pains and can even experience heart failure when the heart rhythm is fast.
Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Aside from chest pain, a person may experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Confusion, lightheadedness and dizziness
- Tiredness and easily fatigued
- Heavy legs
- Lack concentration
- Body malaise (weakness)
- Palpitations, shortness of breath
- Erratic heart beat
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
The most common cause of AF is heart abnormalities, other possible causes are:
- Increase in blood pressure
- Heart attacks
- Congenital heart defects
- Coronary artery disease
- Abnormal heart valves
- Lung diseases
- Stimulant exposure like medications, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or tobacco
- Metabolic imbalances
- Viral infections
- Stress (pneumonia, surgery and other diseases)
- Sleep apnea
- History of heart surgery
- Intense exercise (cycling, running, athletics)
Your risk of developing AF may increase due to:
- Old age
- History of heart attack or heart surgery and other heart disease
- Blood pressure increase
- Chronic conditions like sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, thyroid problems, lung and kidney disease.
- Family history
- Intense exercise
Complications may develop such as:
- Stroke – the pooling of blood in the upper chambers of the heart can form clots, thus the result of a blocked blood flow from the heart to the brain, causing a stroke.
- Heart failure – when atrial fibrillation is not controlled, the heart may weaken and this can lead to heart failure where the heart is unable to circulate enough blood to the body.
Atrial Fibrillation in Athletes
The prevalence of AF is higher among athletes than with the rest of the population. It is the most common arrhythmia in athletes; notable in middle aged athletes and endurance athletes or those with short term training and have been in a specific sport for a long period of time. Atrial fibrillation in athletes is considered benign generally, lone and is paroxysmal in nature. This may cause a decrease in performance with severe emotional, mental and physical effects. Treatment plan is the same with the general population who has AF.
Dangers of Energy Drinks on Atrial Fibrillation
Energy drinks are available everywhere and widely consumed. Different studies have been published to show the safety of energy drinks. The Journal of the American Pharmacists Association concluded in their 2003 report “the amounts of guarana, taurine and ginseng found in energy drinks are far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse effects. However, caffeine and sugar are present in amounts known to cause a variety of adverse health effects.”
Adolescents and those with genetic vulnerabilities should lessen intake or totally avoid energy drinks as they can be putting themselves at high risk.
Heart Healthy Diet to Help Reduce Atrial Fibrillation
Limit Salt Intake
Too much salt in the diet can contribute to high blood pressure, increasing your risk for atrial fibrillation. Salt intake should be less than 2,400 milligrams per day. Avoid canned foods and processed meats and read the labels all the time before eating.
Drink Caffeine in Moderation
Coffee lovers will find this tip challenging but drink your coffee in moderation from now on to prevent atrial fibrillation. Remember that caffeine is a known heart stimulant and may increase the heart rate.
Limit Alcohol Intake
It should be “avoid alcohol” but for folks addicted to alcohol, limiting intake must be done gradually and not all at once. If you still have the urge to drink, do so in moderation just like with coffee because drinking it moderately doesn’t increase the risk for AF. Alcohol can trigger symptoms of atrial fibrillation so go easy on it.
Watch the fats in Your Diet
Avoid too many fatty foods as they can tax the liver and affect the heart causing palpitations. Organ meats, eggs, shellfish are all high in cholesterol and should be eaten with caution. When cooking food always go for coconut oil or macadamia nut oil and never cook it in butter, lard or smother them with salt or sugar. Watch what you eat always!
Say NO to Gluten
Gluten in diet can trigger symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation is must be avoided if possible. Eat whole foods instead of highly processed gluten free foods products. Wheat, processed carbs and sugar can have adverse effects to the brain functions and must be avoided in order to prevent neurologic degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
A healthy diet consists eating more fish, filling up your plate with fruits and vegetables and consuming lean protein in the form of legumes and pulses, these are also high in fibre. These are foods perfect in healing to control AF symptoms. To reach and maintain a healthy weight, control what you eat in portion sizes. Always eat at the dining table and never in front of the TV or while working on your computer or laptop.
Atrial fibrillation can be occasional, persistent, long-standing and permanent. Once you feel any of the symptoms of AF, it’s time to set an appointment with your physician and submit yourself to the necessary tests. Chest pain is an indication that you need to seek medical assistance right away, do not delay!