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What is Atrial Fibrillation?

11 January 2017

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)
  • Severe electrolyte imbalance

Risk Factors

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
  • Alcoholism
  • Obesity
  • 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 (the wrong kind)

Too much of the wrong kind of salt in the diet can contribute to high blood pressure, increasing your risk for atrial fibrillation. Salt intake from iodised salt and processed should be less than 2,400 milligrams per day. Avoid canned foods and processed meats and read the labels all the time before eating.

Natural salt from Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt are a different story but more about that soon...

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 bad fats in Your Diet

Avoid too many bad fatty foods as they can tax the liver and affect the heart causing palpitations. We are talking mostly vegetable oils and trans fats - these are the ones to avoid like the plague! When cooking food always go for coconut oil, ghee or any other animal fat as these are the healthy saturated fats which we have been programmed to believe are bad for us and cause heart attacks - this lie was created many years ago by the vegetable oil industry. 

Read my blog: 'Vegetable Oil: May be Public Health Enemy Number One'.

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!

 

References:

https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Atrial-Fibrillation/The-Research/Latest-Research

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_heart/diseases_and_conditions/atrial-fibrillation-prevention-treatment-and-research

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Atrial-Fibrillation-AF-or-AFib_UCM_302027_Article.jsp

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atrial-fibrillation/diagnosis-treatment/research/rsc-20164964

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2638655/

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/consumer-reports-energy-drinks-may-mislabel-caffeine-amounts/

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