Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a common condition affecting the elderly. The prevalence of AF increases with age. It is estimated that 1% of individuals above the age of 60 and 8% of individuals above the age of 80 years must be suffering from AF
AF means fast beating of the upper chambers (atria) of the heart. The atrial rate is expected around 400-600 beats per minute. At this rate there is no effective contraction of the upper chambers and this causes blood to stagnate. This can cause small clots which can then migrate to the brain causing stroke. The other symptoms of this condition may be palpitations and breathlessness. A fast heart rate for a long time may also cause the heart pumping to go down and cause a condition called heart failure.
AF increases stroke risk!
The most devastating consequence of this heart beat disorder is stroke. The elderly (aged > 65 years) are at high risk of stroke. The other risk factors for stroke are blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes and patients who have had strokes in the past.
Treatment of AF:
Treatment of AF is two-fold.
1. The primary goal is to prevent strokes.
Patients with the highest risk should receive blood thinners. Warfarin and Dabigatran are the commonest drugs used. Individuals at lower risk can be treated with Aspirin.
2. The second goal of treatment is to control or prevent AF.
Patients who have had AF for a long duration are on drugs which slow down the heart rate and thereby reduce palpitations. In the initial stages of the disease, the recurrence of the condition (AF) can be prevented by medications. There are multiple drugs available and should be taken in consultation with physicians.
The main goal of treatment still remains Stroke Prevention.