Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia worldwide and is responsible for 20 to 30% of ischemic strokes. Diagnosing this cardiac arrhythmia in a timely manner can prove to be fundamental in preventing complications such as stroke, heart failure, dementia or even sudden death. In this and other cardiac arrhythmias, prevention, early diagnosis and control are essential.
Although atrial fibrillation is often a silent disease, some patients have very limiting symptoms, such as a feeling of uncoordinated heartbeat (palpitations), rapid and irregular pulse, dizziness, fainting sensation, difficulty in breathing, tiredness, confusion or tightness in the chest. In Portugal, its prevalence from 40 years of age is around 2.5%. From the age of 65, it increases to 10%, which means that about one in 10 Portuguese people over 65 develops this arrhythmia.
Measurement of the pulse in the prevention of arrhythmias
It is the heart’s job to ensure that blood is distributed to all parts of the body. Cardiac activity varies depending on the needs of our body, which means that the heart pumps more when it has to respond to a stressful situation and less when we are at rest. In a healthy adult, at rest, the heart beats about 60 to 100 times per minute, at a regular rate. When a cardiac arrhythmia occurs, such as atrial fibrillation, the heart contracts in an irregular and often rapid manner.
Measuring the pulse is the simplest way to monitor your heart rate. It is a simple measure that can contribute to the detection of irregular heartbeat, to early identify arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation and thus to prevent other serious co-morbidities.
The irregularity of the heart rhythm can then be detected in complementary cardiac exams, such as the electrocardiogram or Holter, among others.
Reduce and eliminate risk factors
Factors such as smoking, stress, alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyles, drug use, the misuse of some medications and excess caffeine are at the root of many arrhythmias. In addition to these, and age itself, there are and co-morbidities that enhance the appearance of atrial fibrillation episodes, such as diabetes, obesity, heart failure, arterial hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome or coronary heart disease, among others.
If, on the one hand, we cannot control variables such as age, on the other, we have modifiable risk factors. Changing lifestyle and complying with treatments according to medical instructions can reduce the risk of developing atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias, as well as their complications.
Use of therapy
When diagnosed in a timely manner, cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation can be effectively controlled in the vast majority of cases. The later the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation is, the more difficult it may be to achieve efficacy of therapies, so early detection is essential. For a better control, we count on the alteration of life habits, control of co-morbidities, use of antiarrhythmic drugs, ablation and anticoagulant therapy.
According to the norms established in most European countries, the majority of patients with atrial fibrillation are indicated to take oral anticoagulant therapy, for the prevention of stroke and systemic thromboembolism, namely through the use of known anti-vitamin K anticoagulants. by NOAC. It is a decision that must be made with the involvement of a doctor, who must regularly monitor the patient. Therapeutic success is all the greater the earlier the patient is properly guided. Be aware of your heart rate.
An article by the doctor Natália António, specialist in Cardiology, with subspecialty of Electrophysiologist, at the Hospital and University Center of Coimbra; assistant professor of pharmacology at the Faculty of Medicine of Coimbra.