Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia, the disorder affecting the heart’s electrical system. But how does this disease manifest itself and what are the signs that should not be underestimated? We talk about this topic with Dr. Maurizio Gasparini, Head of the Operating Unit of Electrophysiology and Electro-stimulation at Humanitas.
An altered heartbeat
The heart is formed by four “chambers”: two upper ones, the atria, and two lower ones, the ventricles. When the atria contract at too fast a pace and irregularly, it is referred to as atrial fibrillation: the contraction of the upper part of the heart is not synchronized with that of the lower part. The arrhythmia is a disturbance of the electrical system because the electric pulses that make the heart beat are not transmitted correctly and reach the ventricles more frequently.
Atrial fibrillation, which often occurs at a later age, must be diagnosed promptly because it may affect the cardiovascular health of the individual. It can lead to heart failure and may also increase the risk of stroke. What are the symptoms that may make us suspect this arrhythmia? Dr. Gasparini recalls: “A sensation of arrhythmic beat, a heart plunge, flicker in the chest, and a feeling of the heart being in the throat”.
If your heart rate is high, you may have a sensation of pulsating but you may also experience daze and a feeling of dizziness.
However, in some cases fibrillation is silent: “These are the most subtle forms, in which the symptoms are almost not felt. When questioned remotely, patients remember that they felt an altered heartbeat, in terms that they found it more difficult to climb stairs, thus experiencing shortness of breath”.
Why do we need to be more careful in these cases? In these cases, the functional capacity reduction is slow. In addition, with few symptoms there are greater risks: atrial fibrillation lasting for days or weeks can give rise to cardio embolism; in apparent full wellbeing, one can suddenly be affected by a stroke or a transient ischemic attack or a secondary heart disease can develop or he or she may suffer from heart failure “.
Fibrillation and high blood pressure
The recently emerging relationship between atrial fibrillation and hypertension may prove valuable in diagnosing arrhythmia: “In a high proportion of patients with atrial fibrillation this is associated with hypertension. This makes it useful to develop pressure-measuring equipment that can be used to measure the pressure even if the beat is irregular. In patients of a certain age with high blood pressure, it is advisable to use these instruments and report any changes in the device to your doctor. In this way, there is the possibility of a warning of the onset of arrhythmia before other patients,” concludes the specialist.