Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm. It is common – occurring in 5% of people over the age of 60 and in 10% of people over the age of 80. It involves an irregular and often fast heart rate and abnormal heart function. The 2 issues for people with atrial fibrillation are symptoms and an increased risk of stroke.
Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are completely unaware that their heart rate is not regular. Other people experience palpitations and breathlessness
symptoms are treated either by slowing the heart rate or converting the heart rhythm back to normal. Tablets are used to slow the heart rate (betablockers, calcium channel blockers, digoxin). Tablets can sometimes control the heart rhythm but if not then electrical cardioversionor atrial fibrillation ablation procedures may be required.
The risk of atrial fibrillation causing a stroke can be calculated using the CHADSVASC risk score. If the score is 1 or higher blood thinning to prevent clot formation should be considered to prevent strokes occurring. Commonly used blood thinnersare warfarin and the NOACs (Novel Oral Anti-Coagulant). Commonly used NOACs are Apixaban and Rivaroxaban.