Atrial fibrillation: save your life, why don’t you!

Article published 18 September 2023

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Atrial fibrillation: save your life, why don’t you!

Atrial fibrillation is a little-known troublemaker. If you don't know what it is, read about what it is and what you can do about it.

DO you know what atrial fibrillation is?

Everybody has heard of a heart attack, everybody has heard a of stroke, but how does it really work?

The heart has two upper and two lower chambers. The upper chambers — the right and left atria — receive incoming blood. The lower chambers — the right and left ventricles — pump blood out of your heart.

Anything goes wrong in those four chambers, and the risk of a heart attack or a stroke becomes acute.

Fibrillation is a random twitching of individual muscle fibers. It can happen in any muscle, including the heart.

The two types of heart trouble

Ventricular fibrillation stops the lower chambers of the heart from supplying blood to the body: a heart attack.

Atrial fibrillation is when your heart beats irregularly, often fast. The atria may pump insufficient blood into the ventricles all the time. This reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood properly and increases the chance of a blood clot forming in the heart and travelling up to the brain: a stroke. It can also cause a heart attack.

Everybody has heard of a heart attack and knows it is caused by a blockage, but knowledge of atrial fibrillation and the damage it can do in is not so common.

Atrial fibrillation affects one-in-four Australians over the age of 55. Apart from heart failure and a stroke, it can lead to dementia when left untreated.

Not many know about atrial fibrillation

A nationwide survey sponsored by the health promotion charity hearts4heart has shown that people don’t take racing and thumping hearts as seriously as they should, because they don’t know how serious the damage can be.

“Early detection and awareness play a pivotal role in managing this condition effectively and improving the quality of life for those affected,” said Tanya Hall, CEO, and Founder of hearts4heart, who is also living with the condition.

The national survey commissioned by hearts4heart revealed that ten million Australians, or half of the adult population, have limited knowledge of what atrial fibrillation can do to a body.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Only a third of those have heard of the condition, but don’t know what it is, or what the symptoms are:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced ability to exercise

What to do?

“With early diagnosis, treatment and lifestyle changes, a person with atrial fibrillation can reduce their risk of hospitalisation and stroke and improve their quality of life, which is why awareness is so important,” said Dr Adrian Elliott, a leader in the field of cardiac arrhythmias and lecturer at the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders.

“If you’re over 65, or experiencing any symptoms, speak with your GP and get your heart checked,” Dr Elliott said.

Those who have experienced life-threatening health complications after not knowing the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, say that they wished they had acted sooner and had gone to see their GP.

“Even if you have an inkling that something is wrong with your heart, go speak to your doctor. There is nothing worse than not asking questions, and the best place to start is your GP,” said one.

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