Atrial fibrillation can be caused by chronic stress, chronic fast heart rate called tachycardia, or a genetic weakness.
Heart Disease, Blood Flow, SA node, Right Atrium, Left Atrium, ventricular contraction, neurologic malfunction of the heart. Before I can explain a common neurologic malfunction of the heart, I should explain the way the heart beats and the way the heart increases and decreases how fast it beats.
The heart has an amazing spontaneous electrical generator called the SA node. It is located in the Right atrium and generates the beat of the heart that causes the atrium to contract and send blood to the ventricle through another node of electrical tissue called AV node which then causes the ventricle to contract. This amazing conduction system causes a coordinated contraction that amazingly causes blood to pump from the atria to the ventricles and then out to the lungs or the aorta to the body.
This is a sketch that shows the way the SA node begins the process of conduction.
When the heart is working properly you can put a stethoscope on the chest and hear the Lub-Dub that is associated with human and animal life. Lub is the sound of the atrial contraction and Dub is the sound of the ventricular contraction. 99.9% of the time we completely ignore this automatic activity in our chest. Only when the heart becomes sick or develops an electrical short do we have symptoms that cause us to pay attention to the heart’s rhythm.
What speeds up the heart or slows it down?
The heart isn’t an isolated independent pacemaker. It is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system. When these two systems are balanced the sympathetic system speeds up the heart to accommodate exercise, anxiety and fear, and to respond to the adrenal outpouring of adrenaline. The parasympathetic system is the opposite of the sympathetic system and is the “brakes” of the heart rate, which takes over when we are relaxing , quiet and at rest. The trouble begins when we are under the severe stress of modern life that makes us “sympathetic dominant”. Under the control of the sympathetic system people have a fast heart rate all the time which doesn’t allow the heart to rest and relax its muscle. Over time the heart is overworked and gets faster and faster. The owner of that heart becomes out of breath easily and is unable to exercise for any period of time because the heart cannot fill completely in between beats and therefore cannot deliver oxygen to the muscles.
Today we are talking about the rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation. It can be caused by chronic stress, and chronic fast heart rate called tachycardia, combined with a genetic weakness, that progresses from a fast, regular beat to heart beats that are irregular and uncoordinated, making the heart fail to push out enough blood and oxygen to the body. The atria may beat twice and miss a beat to the ventricles which feels like your heart is “falling” out of your chest. Fibrillation means uncoordinated muscle contraction.
The big risk of atrial fibrillation is that the uncoordinated heart activity will literally act as a whirlwind and shake the blood up without moving it through the chambers, which causes a high risk of blood clots, stroke and heart failure. The other and more deadly risk is that the fibrillation will be so uncoordinated that it will prevent oxygenated blood from reaching the vessels that feed the heart muscle, which results in a heart attack and instant death.
Generally, if you have symptoms of AF you will seek evaluation from a doctor and receive medication or other treatment.
The symptoms of AF include:
- Palpitations, which are sensations of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat or a flip-flopping in your chest.
- Reduced ability to exercise.
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Habits and situations that worsen AF include:
- Fatty diet
- High altitude and
- aerobic exercise
- tight neck muscle and headaches
- lack of sleep
Even if you avoid these situations and activities, you may still progress from tachycardia to intermittent atrial fib to chronic atrial fib. This is typical if the high stress lifestyle that pushed your body over to AF is continued. I can tell you that you cannot push through this disease…it will only get worse.
What can you do yourself if you have Atrial Fibrillation?
Increase your sleep and avoid alcohol and caffeine
Take up meditation and or yoga
Stop stressful work or activities
Listen to relaxing music
Take the following supplements:
- Magnesium glycinate
- Replenish your potassium by eating tomatoes, bananas, oranges and avacados
- CoQ 10 200-600 mg/day
- D-ribose 2-3 times a day
- The Sinatra foursome is : Co Q 10, D-ribose, L-carnitine, and magnesium
The treatments that doctors can offer patients include medications to slow the heart rate like beta blockers eg: Metaprolol or drugs like digoxn to make each contraction stronger. Other medications that have a normalizing effect on the heart rhythm include NSAIDS and antidepressants at low dose. Antiarrhythmic drugs are reserved for constant AF and is an alternative to ablation directly to the area that is an additional node that has overcome the beat of the SA node or the SA node itself, that is accompanied by placement of a pacemaker.
There are alternative treatments like electrical stimulation of the Vagus nerve which slows the heart. There are more non-medicine treatments being rolled out monthly. The most amazing things that have come use in the last few years is your very own EKG that you can do yourself in one minute. It works with your iphone and can be sent to your cardiologist. It is helpful in diagnosing how often the abnormal beat occurs. This is important in deciding whether a blood thinner should be instituted to prevent blood clots and strokes. The name of the EKG I use is Kardia. The latest Applewatch has the ability to count your heart rate and rhythm, so you can always be monitored!
As always, we hope that this information is useful for you when discussing your health concerns with your physician. Remember an informed consumer is more likely to be a healthy consumer. Stay healthy, be healthy.
This Health cast was written and presented by Dr. Kathy Maupin, M.D., Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Expert and Author, with Brett Newcomb, MA., LPC., Family Counselor, Presenter and Author. www.BioBalanceHealth.com.