Frequently Asked Questions into Atrial Fibrillation

Reading time: 3 min
Is it genetic?

Atrial fibrillation is not genetic; however, if one of your parents has or had the condition, you will have a greater risk of developing it, although there is no direct association.

What is the difference between heart rhythm and heart rate?

Heart rate is the speed at which the heart beats, in other words, the number of times it contracts in a certain period. It is usually measured in beats per minute. Heart rhythm refers to how the heart beats and their timing; the rhythm can be regular or irregular. Under normal conditions, the heartbeat is regular and pumps at a rate of 60–100 beats per minute. If it beats more quickly, it is called tachycardia, whereas a slow heartbeat is called bradycardia.

Are all arrhythmias the same?

There are many types of arrhythmia. The term arrhythmia just means an altered heart rhythm. The heart could be beating faster (tachycardia) or slower (bradycardia) than normal. Other types of arrhythmia depend on whether it affects the ventricle or atrium, or if it is permanent or periodic. Some arrhythmias are serious, while others are harmless.

The most frequent type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation. When it only appears occasionally it is called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. When it endures continually without the rhythm returning to normal, it is known as persistent atrial fibrillation. The two conditions are not exclusive; the former can develop into the latter.

Do I have a greater risk of suffering a heart attack?

Having atrial fibrillation is not a risk factor for suffering a heart attack. Nevertheless, heart attacks and atrial fibrillation have some common causes (high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and so on). All of these aspects increase the risk of both having a heart attack and developing an arrhythmia.

Do I have a greater risk of suffering an embolism?

Yes. Patients with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to suffer an embolism. You should be especially alert to the symptoms of a stroke: weakness in the limbs, speaking difficulties or disorientation.

Do I have a greater risk of suffering cardiac arrest?

Atrial fibrillation is a relatively benign arrhythmia that does not imply an increased risk of cardiac arrest, apart from under exceptional circumstances.

What are the possible long-term complications of the disease?

You may experience symptoms including palpitations, general malaise, upset stomach and tiredness. You also have a greater risk of suffering a stroke. Finally, arrhythmia that induces a very quick heart rhythm for a long period (months) can result in heart failure (a weakening of the heart).

Will I be cured by an ablation procedure?

Ablation does not ensure 100% cure. After an operation, a patient may be cured forever, or may have occasional symptoms. It will depend on each case. Even so, after one year around 70% of the people who are operated on no longer have an arrhythmia.

What percentage of success do operations (ablation) have?

The success of ablation operations depends on several factors such as how much damage the heart has suffered due to the arrhythmia, how long it has been present, how long it has gone untreated and how aggressive it is, amongst others.

The success rate, in other words, whether the arrhythmia disappears, is around 70% after 1 year. When dealing with a more aggressive arrhythmia, it is still absent in approximately 40%–50% of patients. Sometimes the arrhythmia reappears, but with much milder symptoms and less discomfort.

What complications are associated with ablation procedures?

Like any operation, ablation involves risks and the most common are related to the insertion of a needle in the leg, which is necessary so that one or two catheters can be guided to the heart. This needle insertion can produce local bruising. On rare occasions (less than 1%) some specific complications can arise such as embolisms or perforations [of veins]. The mortality related to the complications is less than 1% for every 1,000 inhabitants.

Substantiated information by:

Alba Cano Valls
Eduard Guasch Casany
Josep Lluís Mont Girbau
Manel Castellà Pericas

Published: 27 November 2018
Updated: 27 November 2018

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