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Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common form of arrhythmia – a problem with the rate, or rhythm, of the heartbeat. It is believed to affect more than six million people worldwide.
According to the London Atrial Fibrillation Centre, part of London Bridge Hospital, many people notice that when they are “in AF” they cannot do as much as they could when their heart is in normal rhythm. And because AF is a chronic condition, “It is not uncommon for patients to be surprised at what they can do when restored to normal rhythm and feel worse if they return to AF because they have been reminded what it is like to be in normal rhythm.”
AF carries some significant health risks including stroke. It is generally accepted that this risk is greatly reduced by the drug warfarin in high risk patients and aspirin in low risk patients.
About 30 per cent of people with AF have no symptoms and it is discovered by chance however, according to the London AF Centre website www.londonafcentre.co.uk, most people will experience a combination of the following symptoms:
1. Palpitation (a feeling that your heart is racing, going faster than normal or beating in an irregular way)
2. Shortness of breath
4. Dizzy spells or fainting
5. Chest pain
6. Symptoms of stroke (transient or permanent weakness to one side of the body, speech or visual impairment).
These are the features of AF discovered when a health professional examines you. A rapid and irregular pulse is the commonest sign of AF and is usually the way in which it is discovered in people without any symptoms.
While there are not many options available now to treat AF there are some drug and surgical therapies that are being researched all over the world. In fact, AF treatment as a research activity has gained a lot of traction in medical research even in the last 10 years.