When someone says their heart skips a beat, they often mean they were surprised, excited, or nervous about something. However, when your heart truly skips a beat, it’s best to take action.
The first step in taking that action is knowing the term that describes when your heart skips a beat—which is an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a disturbance in the rate or rhythm of one’s heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation (AF), is the most common type of arrhythmia. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that AF will affect about 12 million people in the United States by 2030.
Understanding the heart’s structure also helps in understanding how AF affects a person. The heart has two upper chambers and two lower chambers. The upper chambers are called atria. The lower chambers are called ventricles.
Typically, a healthy heartbeat consists of regular contractions of the heart that push blood from the upper chambers to the lower chambers and then out to the rest of the body. A normal heart typically beats 60 to 150 beats per minute.
AF causes the heart’s upper chambers (the atria) to contract more than 400 times per minute. When this happens, the heart’s lower chambers (the ventricles) attempt to keep up, causing an irregular and/or a fast heartbeat.
Blood clots can form since the blood gathers in the heart’s upper chambers. These clots can leave the atria and travel to the brain, where they can block blood flow, leading to a stroke.
The American Heart Association suggests that people with AF should know the warning signs of a stroke or heart attack because they are at an increased risk for both. Stroke warning signs include face drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty. Heart attack warning signs include chest discomfort, upper body discomfort, and shortness of breath.
Some common symptoms of AF are fatigue, rapid and irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and shortness of breath. These are often undetected, and some may not even develop symptoms. Those at higher risk are typically have high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, a family history of AF, and people older than 50.
Millions of people are affected by AF, so it is important to learn more about what it is, what treatments are necessary, and what to do to reduce the risks.
We provide the highest level of cardiovascular care in the Central Valley at University Cardiovascular Center to help you enjoy a heart-healthy life. Reach out to our University Cardiovascular Centers to learn more about the services we provide.