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Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation

Editorial comment: This article is a good description of what it is like to have intermittent Afib or Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation.

I had Permanent Atrial Fibrillation - now mostly referred to as Longstanding Persistent Atrial Fibrillation as most afib can be now cured and the term Permanent Afib is not used as much.  I can now remember a time when I had Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation and it progressed to Persistent afib.

Do not take a diagnosis of this type of afib as something you can live with as it will most surely progress to longstanding afib if you do nothing.  Get it treated aggressively as this intermittent type of afib can be most dangerous as you don't always recognize you are in it until it causes a stoke!

Here is a patients story on paroxysmal atrial tachycardia or Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation.

One day, while standing around in gym class, I felt a thud in my chest followed by severe dizziness and sweating, which forced me to sit down.

When I finally sat, I could feel my heart beating double what I'm used to.  Clutching my chest from intense pain, I managed to flag down the gym teacher then muttered that my heart had been thrown into overdrive.  He took my pulse and realized my heart was pumping at over 180 beats per minute.

He made me lie down and elevated my feet then got the school nurse.  By the time she'd arrived, my heart had been beating at that speed for over 6 minutes.  I was frightened but tried to stay calm. Then suddenly, as if someone turned off a light switch, my heart rate dropped back to normal.

It was so sudden I saw spots in front of my eyes. The next day, my mother took me to a doctor who knew exactly what my problem was and diagnosed me with paroxysmal atrial tachycardia.

Paroxysmal atrial tachycardia is not a heart disease, but rather an uncomfortable condition that affects the upper chambers of the heart and makes it start and stop beating abruptly.  In other words, your heart may be beating at a normal pace then suddenly, without warning, it will pick up the pace with absolutely no activity required to spark it.  The rapid heartbeat causes such symptoms as lightheadedness, chest pain, sweating, and shortness of breath.  But while the feeling is very uncomfortable, most doctors agree that the ailment is not life-threatening.

To date, doctors have not found an exact cause to the abrupt increase in heart rate with paroxysmal atrial tachycardia. However, a few possible causes have been pinpointed, including anxiety, caffeine, an over-active thyroid, and even menstruation in women. But according to the American Heart Association, it could also be caused by "a premature atrial beat that sends an impulse along an abnormal electrical path to the ventricles."

Though my doctor was able to easily diagnose my problem, it seems the condition is not always easy to diagnose because the "attack" has normally long-ended before reaching a doctor.  But if by coincidence the ailment is still happening, the doctor can administer an ECG for diagnosis.

But what happens after diagnosis? Personally, I was expecting to have to take medication or wear a pacemaker for the rest of my life (keep in mind I was only 14-years-old), but the doctor simply explained that I could increase my potassium levels by eating bananas and potatoes, decrease my intake of caffeine, and stay healthy overall. If my episodes were to increase then I may need medication.  But since my paroxysmal atrial tachycardia has only triggered on average about 1-2 times per year in the past 15 years, I was never placed on medication.  When I do get an attack, I take a cold shower if possible then lie down and elevate my feet; this normally works.

According to the American Heart Association its only in worst-case scenarios that a procedure called a catheter ablation may be necessary to remove the precise area of the heart responsible for triggering the fast heart rate, but this is extremely rare and only for those suffering from regular attacks - most people don't have this problem. 

If you have symptoms that sound similar to paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, like any other heart condition, it is advised that you seek medical attention to make sure that there are no other problems issues triggering the attacks.  But rest assured, if you are diagnosed with it, the odds of your life being in danger are very slim; basic exercise and a good diet can hopefully keep your paroxysmal atrial tachycardia under control.

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