On average, the human heart beats more than one hundred thousand times per day, and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. It contracts more than 2.5 billion times in our lifetime. Cardiac arrhythmias are actually very common, and nearly every human being experiences an abnormal rhythm at some point in their lives.
Many arrhythmias are short-lived and not really dangerous. Roughly 20 to 25 percent of healthy adults experience infrequent, premature ventricular heart beats in a typical day. The more concerning statistic is that roughly 850,000 Americans are hospitalized annually for arrhythmias. Health concerns from AFib, as one of the most common arrhythmias, is increased risk of heart disease and stroke. More than 100,000 Americans have an implantable defibrillator. These numbers are growing every single year and the trend has been increasing for the last 25 years.
What is AFib?
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder. AFib is a rapid, disorganized electrical signal that causes the heart to fibrillate. Fibrillation is a relatively quick and irregular contraction of the upper chambers of the heart, the right and left atria. When fibrillation begins, blood begins to pool in the atria and is not pumped completely and efficiently into the heart's lower chambers, the ventricles. AFib may occur sporadically, episodically, or it may become ongoing and long lasting.
What are the risk factors for developing AFib?
Major risk factors for developing a heart arrhythmia include: heart disease, cardiac valve disease, heart failure, and conductive tissue disease. Commonly ingested substances such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, amphetamines, and other drugs have been associated with the potential risk of arrhythmia. Finally, there are physical and psychological demands such as stress, exercise, fatigue, and sleep deprivation.
Until recently, AFib was likely to go untreated. It is unfortunately still very easy to ignore. The symptoms associated with AFib can be very general, and include dizziness, shortness of breath, and the feeling of heart palpitations. Symptoms can be fairly brief and tolerable by most patients. When it goes unnoticed and untreated, AFib increases risk of stroke and heart failure, especially if the heart rhythm has the tendency of being tachycardiac or very rapid.
Monitoring the heart for AFib?
Monitoring becomes absolutely necessary for the recognition and confirmation of AFib.
This image (below) represents AFib. The ventricle contraction is still somewhat regular and controlled by the conduction system. However, the atrial channel is chaotic. There are no P waves, and the contractions are periodic and irregularly irregular. This is what fibrillation looks like when monitored.
The growing cost of AFib
In terms of health economics, AFib treatment costs in the U.S. total around $7 billion.
Treatment costs of complications from AFib, including stroke, heart failure and other indirect cardiovascular complications amount to roughly $25 billion. The increasing prevalence of atrial fibrillation makes it epidemic-like for the medical and clinical research development community. By 2020 18-20 million people are forcast to experience AFib.
If you are in your 50s, AFib risk is roughly 0.5 percent. In your 80s, AFib risk goes up sharply up to 25 percent.
Men are more likely than women to develop atrial fibrillation and they are usually diagnosed earlier in their life. Women subjectively struggle with more symptoms such as palpitations, dizziness, and chest pain. They also face a higher risk for stroke. The clinical management issues are vast. The ability to detect AFib events will continue to depend on heart monitoring continuity and duration. The good news is that there is now more focus on early detection of AFib than ever before.