Can afib attacks be fatal?

I don’t mean clots or long term heart damage. I mean immediatly.

CandyCane Asked on May 20, 2015 in Health.
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2 Answer(s)

But what I mean and what you may be asking may be two completely different things. Please clarify your question, and I’ll be happy to elaborate. The way you’ve worded yoour question, I have no idea what you mean by afib attack.


I saw that you asked the same question earlier, and your question seemed to ask specifically whether or not rapid atrial fibrillation is immediately lethal. I don’t know if you’re asking for yourself or if asking on behalf of someone or if just curious. It might help if you provided a little context.

First, it is extremely rare for rapid atrial fibrillation to be immediately fatal.

In a normal heart, the origin of the heart’s electrical impulse is at the sino-atrial node, which resides in the right atrium. From there, the electrical impulse spreads across the left and right atria until the impulse wavefront reaches the atrio-ventricular node (AV node). Here, the impulse actually pauses for a split second, which allows the atria to fully empty its contents into the ventricles. From the AV note, the electrical impulse then runs down the His-Purkinje system to the rest of the heart.

It’s this delay that’s the key to understanding the answer to your question. When someone exercises to about 100% of his capacity, it’s rare for his heart rate to rise above 200. Even a rise about 180 is rare, and at a heart rate of 180, you are still getting enough blood to your brain, muscles, and all your other organs.

A person with atrial fibrillation will have his impulses from the atria bombarding the AV node at a rate of about 300-400 times per minute, but the AV node is structurally incapable for transmitting that impulse to the ventricles more than about 160 beats per minute or so.

Thus, it is very rare to see people passing out and dying in public or at home because even if your heart rate is about 160 beats per minute, you are still able to pump blood to all your vital organs.

Contrast this rhythm to ventricular tachycardia where the origin of the ventricular rhythm abnormality is in the ventricle. In this situation the electrical impulse does not need the AV node for impulse propagation, and heart rates about 200 can be seen. When heart rates get this high, blood does not have enough time to get into the ventricle, and in turn, little blood leaves the ventricle to reach the brain, muscles, and even the heart. As no blood reaches any of the vital organs, the individual can collapse and die suddenly. In fact, the syndrome of ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation leading to collapse is termed “sudden cardiac death”

Going back to atrial fibrillation, there are a couple of exceptions to note. If someone is frail or if they have certain medical conditions where they are sensitive to elevated heart rates, rapid atrial fibrillation may be fatal if it is not treated in an expedited manner. Specific cases (not exhaustive) include people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, aortic stenosis, and congestive heart failure.

Finally, rapid atrial fibrillation may also be fatal in people with Wolf Parkinson White syndrome. These individuals have an extra pathway that conducts electricity to the ventricles much faster than the AV node can. If these individuals develop atrial fibrillation, then they could potentially transmit these impulses to the ventricles even up to 300 beats per minute, which could be fatal. Another variant includes Lown-Ganong-Levine syndrome.

Hope this helps. Please provide a little more context, and I can tailor my answer accordingly.

CastBound Answered on September 3, 2015.
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The most beneficial development might be the effective prevention of AF. Research into the underlying molecular and genetic causes of AF may lead to novel methods of treatment targeting specific ion channel, molecular, or genetic defects. The prevention and optimal management of the medical disorders associated with AF, such as heart disease and hypertension, would have an obvious impact. The choice of treatment of such conditions may make a difference. Studies with drugs such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and the beta blocker carvedilol have shown promise as adjunctive therapies for preventing the development of atrial fibrillation.
Left untreated, AFIB can lead to stroke (if a blood clot forms and travels to the brain), and/or heart failure from a weakened, overworked heart. With that said, many of the potential complications and risks associate with AFIB can be reversed or significantly minimized with proper diagnosis and treatment. To accomplish this task, electrical and medicinal therapies are effectively used to “reset” the heart (similar to restarting a computer), maintain a normal heart rate and rhythm, and prevent blood clots from forming.
Further developments in the understanding of atrial fibrillation will lead to advances in optimal therapy and, hopefully, a reduction in the incidence of this ubiquitous arrhythmia.

CastBound Answered on September 3, 2015.
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