Last Updated on October 6, 2023
Atrial fibrillation is a common public health concern that mainly affects the elderly; however, it can occur at any age. It is a common cardiac condition that results in an abnormal heart rhythm. It is more prevalent in males and can cause serious complications like stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related conditions. The episodes of AFib may come and go but are consistent. Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) is one type of atrial fibrillation which is not caused by valvular heart disease. However, the actual definition of NVAF is not established yet. It is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate attention and treatment.
In this blog, we will delve deep into the intricacies of nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, symptoms, causes and treatment.
What is Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation?
Unlike valvular atrial fibrillation, NVAF happens in a structurally normal heart valve. This condition disturbs the heart’s electrical system, leading to irregular contractions of the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) and impairing its ability to pump blood efficiently.
Symptoms of NVAF
The symptoms of nonvalvular atrial fibrillation can vary from person to person:
- Heart palpitations: Palpitations are rapid irregular heartbeat and people with NVAF experience this distressing symptom quite often.
- Fatigue: Due to reduced blood flow, tiredness or fatigue is very common in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. It may also hinder day-to-day activities.
- Shortness of breath: Due to heart’s reduced ability to pump blood throughout the body, there is reduced supply of oxygen that leads to shortness of breath in NVAF.
- Chest discomfort: Chest discomfort, pressure, or mild chest pain may occur in some cases. It is important to rule out other heart-related conditions when experiencing chest discomfort.
- Dizziness: Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation can disrupt the normal flow of blood through the heart, leading to reduced blood flow to the brain, which can cause dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Fainting: When NVAF results in a significant drop in blood pressure, it causes syncope (fainting).
- Weakness: Generalized weakness or feeling unwell can be associated with NVAF, particularly when the heart’s pumping efficiency is jeopardized.
Causes of Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation
As previously discussed, NVAF happens in a structurally normal heart valve. Here are some of the common causes and risk factors for NVAF:
- Age: It plays a crucial role in causing NVAF as advancing age puts a person at more risk than others. People older than 60 are more likely to have nonvalvular atrial fibrillation.
- Hypertension: Chronic high blood pressure can lead to alterations in the structure of the heart and the blood vessels, increasing the risk of atrial fibrillation, including NVAF.
- Heart disease: Different heart diseases can increase the risk of nonvalvular atrial fibrillation.
- Obesity: Being overweight can be a risk factor for NVAF. Excess body fat can lead to inflammation that affects the heart.
- Diabetes: It can lead to changes in the heart’s electrical system and structure.
- Sleep apnea: The drop in oxygen levels in sleep apnea often impacts the heart.
- Stress and anxiety: High levels of stress and anxiety can trigger NVAF.
- Thyroid disease: Overactive or underactive thyroid can affect heart rhythm.
- Lung disease: Respiratory conditions like COPD can impact the heart’s rhythm.
- Genetics: There may be a genetic component to NVAF. It tends to run in families.
Treatment Modalities of Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation
The treatment for NVAF is focused around managing the symptoms effectively, preventing complications, and lowering the risk of stroke. Treatment options for nonvalvular atrial fibrillation may include:
- Diet: A diet that is low in sodium, saturated fats and processed foods can help manage high blood pressure that is one of the causative factors of nonvalvular atrial fibrillation.
- Exercise: Regular walking and physical activity can help improve cardiovascular health. Make a routine of working out daily 5 times a week and track your progress with an application, so that it keeps you motivated and pumped up to do more and better.
- Anticoagulants: These medications are prescribed to reduce the risk of stroke by preventing blood clots from forming in atria.
- Rate control medications: These are used to slow down the heart rate in individuals with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation.
- Rhythm control medications: To restore and maintain heart rhythm.
Cardioversion: It is a procedure that uses electrical shock to normalize heart rhythm.
Catheter Ablation: This procedure is performed to destroy abnormal electrical pathways responsible for atrial fibrillation. It is considered when other options have been exhausted.
Left Atrial Appendage Closure: Patients who cannot take long-term anticoagulant therapy are given this treatment. It involves closing off the left atrial appendage where blood clots often develop.
Treatments for nonvalvular atrial fibrillation are highly individualized, and decisions are based on a comprehensive assessment of the patient’s history, risk factors, and overall health. Regular follow-ups and monitoring are essential to test the effectiveness of the treatment. Having one-on-one discussions with your healthcare provider regarding your condition can help you better understand it.
Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation is a heart related condition that can be life-threatening if not treated in time. It’s crucial to note that some people with NVAF may not have any symptoms at all, and the disorder may only be diagnosed by a Cardiologist during routine medical exams or electrocardiogram (ECG) scans. Furthermore, the symptoms of NVAF might overlap with those of other medical illnesses, so if you suspect you have NVAF or are having any troubling symptoms, you should consult your physician for a proper diagnosis and appropriate management. As NVAF is linked to an increased risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems, early detection and treatment are critical.