If your heart sometimes goes off its normal rhythm, you may have something called atrial fibrillation (AFib). When your ticker's electrical signals aren't working right, it can lead to a heartbeat that's too fast or too slow.
The faulty signals start in your heart's two upper chambers, called atria. Sometimes, though, it can also make the two bottom chambers, called ventricles, beat too quickly. When that happens, your doctor will tell you that you've got a specific type of atrial fibrillation called AFib with rapid ventricular response. It makes your heart beat too fast.
That can make you feel tired or short of breath. Afib can also lead to a stroke or heart failure. But the right treatment will bring your symptoms under control and get you back into a healthy rhythm.
Electrical signals make the heart beat in a coordinated way. First, the upper chambers called atria squeeze, or "contract." Then the signal travels to the lower chambers called ventricles. They squeeze and pump out blood to the lungs and body.
In AFib, these signals don't fire normally. Instead of contracting, the atria quiver. The flutters are too weak to send enough blood into the ventricles. In AFib with rapid ventricular response, the ventricles also beat too fast. These beats are too weak to push enough blood out of the heart to the lungs and body.
A normal heartbeat is 60 to 100 beats per minute (BPM). In AFib with RVR, the heart rate can reach more than 100 BPM.
You're more likely to get atrial fibrillation if you have:
If you have AFib with RVR, you might notice symptoms like:
- Feeling that your heart is beating too fast (palpitations)
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, fainting
- Shortness of breath
If you don't get treated, over time the condition can damage your heart muscle, and you can get heart failure.
You may get medicine to slow and steady your heart rate, such as:
The drug digoxin can help with symptoms if you also have heart failure and take it with beta-blockers.
When you're treated in the hospital, you'll get these medicines through a vein (IV).
You may need a treatment called cardioversion if too little blood flows to your ticker, you have chest pain, or you get heart failure. While you're asleep, the doctor will deliver an electric shock to your heart through two paddles. It only lasts about a second and won't hurt. Sometimes just one shock is enough to bring your heartbeat back to normal, though you may need more than one.
To keep your ticker in a normal rhythm and stop it from beating too fast, you can take beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers. Or you can have a procedure called ablation. The doctor inserts thin, flexible tubes called catheters into the blood vessels in your leg or neck. Energy from radio waves or lasers travels through the tube and burns tiny parts of your heart where the faulty signal starts. Scars form on those spots and stop the abnormal signals.
After ablation your heartbeat can sometimes become too slow. If that happens, you'll need a pacemaker, a device that a surgeon puts into your chest. It sends impulses to your heart to keep it beating at a steady rhythm.
Talk with your doctor to work out the best treatment for you. The right method will keep your ticker at a steady pace and let you live a normal, active life.