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Patient education: Heart failure and atrial fibrillation (The Basics)

Patient education: Heart failure and atrial fibrillation (The Basics)

What is heart failure? — Heart failure is a condition in which the heart does not pump as well as it should. This causes the heart to lag behind in its job of moving blood through the body. As a result, fluid backs up in the body, and the organs do not get as much blood flow as they need. This can lead to symptoms such as swelling, trouble breathing, and feeling tired.

What is atrial fibrillation? — Atrial fibrillation is a problem with the heart's rhythm. In atrial fibrillation, the electrical signals that control the heartbeat become abnormal, and the top 2 heart chambers beat abnormally. When this happens, blood can pool in these chambers and form clots. These clots can travel up to the brain through the blood vessels and cause strokes. (A stroke is when a part of the brain is damaged because of a problem with blood flow.)

Besides raising your risk of stroke, atrial fibrillation can make you feel like your heart is racing, skipping beats, or beating out of sync. It can also make you feel dizzy or out of breath.

Can people have both heart failure and atrial fibrillation? — Yes, many people have both heart failure and atrial fibrillation. People usually have only 1 of these conditions at first. But then, their condition "stresses" the heart and affects the way that it works, causing the other condition to happen.

What should I know if I have both heart failure and atrial fibrillation? — If you have both conditions, and 1 gets worse, the other condition is likely to get worse, too.

If that happens, your doctor will try to figure out which condition is the bigger problem so that they can treat that problem first. But if both conditions are causing problems, you might need treatment for both at once.

The treatment will depend on:

Your symptoms

The cause of your heart failure or atrial fibrillation

To figure out the cause of your heart failure or atrial fibrillation, your doctor will talk with you and do an exam. They might also do tests.

How are heart failure and atrial fibrillation treated? — The treatments for heart failure and atrial fibrillation are different. But your doctor can treat both conditions at the same time.

Doctors treat heart failure with different types of medicines (see "Patient education: Medicines for heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (The Basics)"). Most people need to take more than 1 medicine every day. These medicines can improve your symptoms and help you feel better. Some medicines might help you live longer.

Treatment for atrial fibrillation can include 1 or more of the following:

Medicines – Doctors can use different types of medicines to treat atrial fibrillation.

A treatment called "cardioversion," which involves applying an electrical current to the heart to fix its rhythm

A treatment called "ablation," which uses heat or cold to create a scar to block the flow of abnormal electrical signals

A device called a "pacemaker," which is put in your body and sends electrical signals to the heart to control the heartbeat

Surgery to create scar tissue in the heart to block the flow of electrical signals

When should I call the doctor or nurse? — Call your doctor or nurse if you have new or worse symptoms of heart failure or atrial fibrillation.

Symptoms of heart failure can include:

Feeling tired or weak

Trouble breathing

Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or belly

Sudden weight gain

This action plan (figure 1 and figure 2) lists the symptoms that you should watch for every day.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can include:

Feeling like your heart is racing, skipping beats, or beating out of sync

Feeling dizzy or like you are going to pass out

Mild chest tightness or pain

You should also learn the signs and symptoms of a stroke (figure 3). If you have any of these signs or symptoms, call for an ambulance (in the US and Canada, call 9-1-1) or get to the hospital quickly.

More on this topic

Patient education: Medicines for heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (The Basics)
Patient education: Heart failure (The Basics)
Patient education: Atrial fibrillation (The Basics)
Patient education: Catheter ablation for the heart (The Basics)
Patient education: Pacemakers (The Basics)
Patient education: Cardioversion (The Basics)

Patient education: Heart failure (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Cardioversion (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Catheter ablation for abnormal heartbeats (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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