Is Afib a form of a heart attack?
Rajeev Garg, MD, is a cardiologist on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. His office can be reached at 623-876-8816.
Question: Atrial fibrillation and heart attacks both run in my family, but I am not entirely sure if or how the two are related. Is atrial fibrillation a form of heart attack?
Answer: The quick answer to your question is “no”, atrial fibrillation (AFIB) is not a heart attack. But let me explain further.
Heart attacks are caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart. This deprivation of blood and oxygen causes permanent damage to portions of the heart, compromising its ability to function properly. Atrial fibrillation, however, is a rapid, irregular heartbeat which can lead to poor blood circulation throughout the body. AFIB is not the result of blockage, but rather occurs when an influx of electrical signals overloads the upper two chambers of the heart, causing them to beat chaotically and out of sync with the heart’s lower two chambers.
A normal heart rate ranges from 60-100 beats a minute, but during an AFIB episode the heart can race to 175 beats per minute. For some, these episodes occur sporadically. For others, AFIB can be a chronic condition.
Along with heart palpitations, symptoms of AFIB often include: weakness, lightheadedness, low blood pressure, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Some people might not experience any symptoms and only learn they have AFIB through a physical exam and an electrocardiogram.
Left untreated, AFIB can lead to stroke (if a blood clot forms and travels to the brain), and/or heart failure from a weakened, overworked heart. With that said, many of the potential complications and risks associate with AFIB can be reversed or significantly minimized with proper diagnosis and treatment. To accomplish this task, electrical and medicinal therapies are effectively used to “reset” the heart (similar to restarting a computer), maintain a normal heart rate and rhythm, and prevent blood clots from forming.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned or have any questions or concerns about your heart health, contact your healthcare provider. If you experience any chest pain, seek immediate medical care.