Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition in which patients have an irregular heart rate that is often higher than the normal level (between 60 and 100 beats per minute). It ranges in severity, from episodic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation to permanent atrial fibrillation.
Symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath, tiredness and heart palpitations, although in some cases there are no noticeable symptoms. Atrial fibrillation is caused by random contractions in the upper chambers of heart. This prevents the heart muscle from relaxing as it should, which adversely impacts on its efficiency and performance.
While not normally a life-threatening condition in itself, atrial fibrillation may cause discomfort and increases the risk of a stroke. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the condition, but patients are often prescribed medication to control the rhythm and/or rate of the heartbeat.
Drugs used to treat this form of arrhythmia include calcium channel blockers such as Verapamil, antiarrhythmics and digoxin. Physicians often recommend lifestyle changes for those diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and may prescribe statins or other drugs to lower cholesterol. Surgical options such as catheter ablation, cardioversion, or fitting a pacemaker, may also be explored.