Fast heartbeat for no reason? That could be a sign of atrial fibrillation, doctors say

Michael Joe Delizo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 18 2023 12:00 PM | Updated as of Sep 18 2023 01:47 PM

MANILA — Have you ever felt nervous or experienced your heartbeat speeding up for no reason? Those could be signs of atrial fibrillation, according to doctors.

Atrial fibrillation or Afib is a heart rhythm disorder that usually presents as palpitations or shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue, said Dr. Erdie Fadreguilan, president of the Philippine Heart Rhythm Society (PHRS).

This abnormality can raise a person's risk of heart failure and stroke, he warned.

"Ang palpitation ay hindi normal. Hindi dapat natin nararamdaman ang tibok ng ating puso pero may mga conditions na puwede natin itong maramdaman, halimbawa kapag kinakabahan o kaya pagod," Fadreguilan told reporters in a forum on Saturday.

(Palpitations are not normal. We shouldn't be able to feel our heartbeat but there are conditions in which we can feel it, for example when we are nervous or tired.)

"Ang palpitation na walang dahilan o kaya tumatagal ng 30 segundo lalo na kung mayroong associated symptoms, tulad ng paninikip ng dibdib, pagdidilim ng paningin, pagkahilo o paggaan ng pakiramdam sa ulo, ‘yan ang palpitation na dapat nating ipatingin," he added.

(Palpitation that has no reason or lasts 30 seconds — especially if there are associated symptoms, such as chest tightness, darkening of vision, dizziness or lightheadedness — should be checked by a doctor.)

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AFib occurs in 2% of Filipinos above 70 years old, based on a national survey conducted by the Department of Health and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute. Occasionally, it may be found among younger individuals.

Screening is highly recommended among those 75 years of age and those with heart diseases or risk factors such as heart failure, diabetes, previous stroke, and diseases of the blood vessels including coronary artery diseases (heart artery blockage).

Fadreguilan said a patient who is experiencing atrial fibrillation symptoms should get checked because the condition is associated with complications.

Dr. Marcellus Francis Ramirez, PHRS vice president, said younger people are also diagnosed with AFib. He said the condition is typically detected in people in their late 50s to early 60s.

"Teens and 20-somethings who have it too were diagnosed to have other health conditions, comorbidities, and found to have vice," he said.

"Comorbidities like congenital defects could cause [AFib] to manifest in early life. Aside from diabetes and hypertension, other metabolic disorders like hyperthyroidism and pulmonary embolism could also be at the root of the problem," he noted.

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The normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to less than 100 beats per minute, according to Dr. Luigi Pierre Segundo, PHRS director.

If a person's heart rate is lower than 60 or above 100 even if they are resting — or their heart rate is irregular — Segundo advises seeing a doctor to have themselves screened for any irregular heart rhythm.

When a patient is diagnosed with Afib, they need to get treatment to prevent stroke and heart failure, he said. 

"A procedure called catheter ablation, which is done in a number of hospitals in the country, can improve heart failure in patients with Afib."

September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month.

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