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Atrial Fibrillation Complications

Updated on November 19, 2010

 

If you have a-fib, you’re concerned about atrial fibrillation complications. My husband suffers from this condition, along with several of its symptoms. In his case, they include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, and racing palpitations. A-fib is scary, though it’s not usually immediately life-threatening. The serious health problems might come later, with atrial fibrillation complications.

 

One of the most serious of the atrial fibrillation complications is an increased chance of stroke. In fact, if you have untreated a-fib, your chances of stroke are up to seven times greater than for someone with a normal heart rhythm. Because the blood tends to pool in the heart with a-fib, blood clots can easily form. Should one of these clots break free and travel to the brain, a stroke will occur. Strokes caused by a-fib are usually more severe than strokes from other causes. Almost one-quarter of atrial fib strokes result in death, as compared to only an 8% death rate from other types of strokes. Also, almost half of all atrial fibrillation strokes will result in moderate to severe neurological damage.

 

Pulmonary embolism is also among the more dangerous atrial fibrillation complications. This occurs when a clot breaks free and travels through the bloodstream, blocking an artery in the lung. Because the lung won’t receive adequate blood flow due to the blockage, the lung can be permanently damaged. Large clots or multiple smaller clots in the lung can be life-threatening.

 

Another one of the significant atrial fibrillation complications is dementia. Because someone suffering from a-fib is not getting enough oxygenated blood to the brain, dementia can result. This is especially true in the case of chronic, untreated atrial fibrillation. When the brain’s oxygen supply is regularly diminished, the condition can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Atrial fibrillation complications can also include a weakened heart. With a-fib, the ventricles are overworked and might weaken over time, resulting in heart failure. When the body doesn’t get the blood supply it needs, it might compensate by retaining fluid. If this fluid pools in the lungs, it’s called pulmonary edema. When this happens, carbon dioxide levels in the blood rise, while oxygen levels drop. Pulmonary edema is a serious condition that can result in death.

 

Mitral valve problems are also among the atrial fibrillation complications. The mitral valve is located between the atria and the ventricles. It, along with the tricuspid valve, controls the blood flow of the heart with a sphincter-like action. With a-fib, the valve can weaken and result in mitral valve regurgitation.

 

Other atrial fibrillation complications can affect internal organs. These might be seen less often, but they can occur. During my husband’s recent bout with atrial fibrillation, his intestines temporarily shut down. According to his team of doctors, this happened because his intestines were not receiving enough oxygenated blood. His a-fib caused “early ileus.” Ileus is similar to a bowel obstruction, but there’s nothing in the bowel causing the blockage. Instead, the bowel is temporarily paralyzed, and the peristalsis action dramatically decreases or stops altogether. Peristalsis is how the bowel pushes stool through the colon and small intestine, with a series of wave-like contractions.

 

Of all the atrial fibrillation complications possible, the doctors seemed most concerned about his early ileus. They felt that the chance of stroke could be significantly reduced with the use of antiplatelet and anticoagulant medications, but the ileus proved to be tricky to deal with. Peristalsis generally improves with physical movement, but whenever he tried to walk, his heart rate would dangerously increase. Even sitting up in the hospital bed would cause such an increase, so this option was ruled out. Eating also stimulates peristalsis, but he couldn’t eat because of severe nausea that was caused by ileus. It was a vicious cycle.

 

The ileus seemed even more serious in my husband’s case because he had a ruptured intestine years ago and still has a lot of scar tissue and adhesions. The ileus was very painful, too. He had to stay on a diet of clear liquids, then full liquids, then soft foods. A couple of times he advanced too quickly with his diet and had to start over with clear liquids only. Gradually, the early ileus cleared up.

 

In and of itself, atrial fibrillation is not usually deadly, but it can be the direct cause of other serious conditions if left untreated. If you have any kind of cardiac arrhythmia, don’t ignore it. See a cardiologist and take care of it as soon as possible. Be diligent in taking any prescribed medications and follow your doctor’s orders to the tee. If you don’t, you could open the door to any number of atrial fibrillation complications.

 

 

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    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      What do you suggest, Dr. Mike??

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      FF, I didn't remember your having this. I'll read your hub!

    • DrMikeFitzpatrick profile image

      DrMikeFitzpatrick 6 years ago from Sandpoint, Idaho

      I have been tuaght early in life, "when you live in the solutions, your problems go away". Taking meds is like changing seats on the Titanic, the ship will still sink. Clots are not difficult to deal with either. Lastly, Doctors get ZERO education on nutrition in 8 years of learning how to give drugs to people. Increasing ones blood flow allows the body to heal itself, something it does very well and naturally. Beware of the diagnosis trap, it only treats symptoms, not the problems. Dr. Mike

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 6 years ago from Southern California

      WOW, habee, thank you so much. Although I've had the experience, and wrote about it, you've given me so much to think about. I should have done more research. I'll have to bookmark this hub and save for later. Also I'm going to Digg it. Oh yes, I'd like to link it to mine. Very good habee.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      HH, thanks for the kind words!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      So true, Toronto!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Marie, thanks for the well wishes!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Charlie. How are you treating yours?

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      That's good to hear, Jill. Thanks!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you, Fucsia!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Quildon, PLEASE get it checked out!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I am so sorry, Holle, while reading this. I hope they soon fined a cure and wish you both all the best.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Silver, I'm glad you found the information helpful!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      I think so, too, Eth.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sorry, Prasetio - we've been very busy. Good to see you!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 7 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you for this essential-to-have-knowledge, habee. May your husband never open the door to any complications.

    • profile image

      ralwus 7 years ago

      I hope your hubby will do OK Holle. I am in A-Fib again and waiting for the Dr to call. ugh Luckily I never had your hubby's problems. But it is very uncomfortable and yes, breathless.

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines

      I have a friend who has atrial fibrillation. He underwent some medical procedure and had some medication. He said the procedure seems to have corrected his condition because he no longer experiences his previous symptoms.

      Thanks for sharing this.

    • fucsia profile image

      fucsia 7 years ago

      Interesting page, very well write, useful and complete.

    • quildon profile image

      Angela Joseph 7 years ago from Florida

      Very good information. I have irregular heart beat from time to time, but I hate taking medication. Maybe I need to start.

    • profile image

      SilverGenes 7 years ago

      Excellent article filled with information we all need to know. I learned a lot here and will recommend this to a friend who needs it. Thank you!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Sound advice. Knowledge will be the power you need to help Hubby fight this illness

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Habee, I never know about this before. Thanks for showing me the fact about this. You can visit my hub. I miss you, my friend. Have a good day!

      Prasetio