What Is Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Surgery, Prognosis

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a term used to describe irregular heartbeat or the irregular rhythm of your heart. Non-valvular atrial fibrillation refers to an irregular heart rhythm only in the upper chambers of the heart. This is not caused by a fault with the heart valves; however, it does not mean that this condition is not a cause for concern. Non-valvular atrial fibrillation or Nonvalvular AFib can cause many problems including pooling of blood in certain parts of the heart. Due to the blood pooling, lesser blood becomes available for the heart to pump out to the rest of the body. Also, if blood clots form in the pooled up blood, then it has the potential to reach the brain and cause a stroke.

Apart from blood pooling also, an irregular heart rhythm means that your heart has to work much harder than normal to pump blood to the rest of the body. This can also cause fatigue and dizziness. Non-valvular atrial fibrillation is, therefore, a serious condition that impacts millions of people. If this condition is left untreated, then it can potentially double the risk of death from a heart-related condition. Nonvalvular AFib also makes it much more likely that a person will end up having a stroke. There are many causes of Non-valvular atrial fibrillation and there are many risk factors as well that heighten your chances of getting this condition. Treatment for non-valvular atrial fibrillation also varies according to the severity of your symptoms and whether you already have heart disease or not. The prognosis or the outlook for nonvalvular AFib can be managed by a change in lifestyle and by getting treated on time. Therefore, it is important to recognize the symptoms of non-valvular atrial fibrillation on time and visit your doctor to establish a treatment plan that works best for you.

What Is Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation?

What is Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation?

Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation refers to an irregular heart rhythm or heartbeat in the upper chambers of the heart. Non-valvular atrial fibrillation is not caused by a fault in the heart valves. While it may seem like Non-valvular atrial fibrillation is a relatively benign condition, it is not so. Non-valvular atrial fibrillation can cause numerous other health problems and if left untreated, it has the potential to cause a stroke and even death. Nonvalvular AFib can cause blood to start pooling in certain parts of the heart due to which lesser blood becomes available for the heart to pump to the rest of the body. Furthermore, there is also a potential for a blood clot to form in this pooled blood, which can easily reach the brain and cause a stroke. The heart is also under tremendous pressure due to an irregular heartbeat. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body and it can cause fatigue, dizziness, or many other health issues.

Therefore, nonvalvular AFib is treated as a serious condition. Non-valvular atrial fibrillation doubles your chances of a stroke or even death from a heart-related condition.

What Causes Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation?

There are different causes of Non-valvular atrial fibrillation and there are many risk factors also that up your chances of getting nonvalvular AFib. While some of these factors are related to the heart, there are many that simply depend on how healthy you are or how weakened your immune system is. Let’s take a look at which groups are at a maximum risk of getting Non-valvular atrial fibrillation.

  • Men are more likely to have Non-valvular atrial fibrillation than women.
  • Elderly people, over the age of 60 years, are at a higher risk for suffering from non-valvular atrial fibrillation.
  • People suffering from high blood pressure are at increased risk for suffering from non-valvular atrial fibrillation.
  • People with a history of heart disease in the family, particularly of heart attacks are more likely to develop non-valvular atrial fibrillation.

Conditions, other than heart-related, that also increase your risk of developing Non-valvular atrial fibrillation include:

  • Regular consumption of alcohol increases the risk of developing non-valvular atrial fibrillation.
  • Regular smoking increases the risk.
  • Lung disease increases the risk of having non-valvular AFib.
  • Diabetes increases the chances of developing non-valvular atrial fibrillation.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Obesity increases the risk of suffering from non-valvular AFib.
  • Hyperthyroidism also increases the risk of this condition.
  • Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing non-valvular atrial fibrillation.
  • High-dose steroid therapy increases the risk of developing this problem.

What are the Symptoms of Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation?

Many people go through their lives living with Non-valvular atrial fibrillation and not experiencing any symptoms. Also, it is complicated to diagnose non-valvular AFib, as many of its symptoms are similar to other medical conditions. Therefore, if you experience any of these symptoms, it is sensible to consult a proper cardiologist to arrive at a proper diagnosis.

The most common symptom of Non-valvular atrial fibrillation is a fluttering or quivering kind of sensation in the chest. You can experience rapid heartbeat or a thumping sort of feeling in the chest. You may also be able to experience an irregular pulse. Some of the other less common symptoms of non-valvular AFib include:

  • Dizziness or feeling of fainting.
  • Tiredness.
  • Difficulty breathing or feeling shortness of breath.
  • Feeling of fatigue, particularly after exercising.

Apart from this, if you experience chest pain or pressure around the chest area, then that should be treated as a medical emergency. This is usually a sign that the person is either having a heart attack or a heart attack is on the horizon. Therefore, this warrants a visit to the emergency room.

If you are already aware that you suffer from Non-valvular atrial fibrillation, then you should always be on the lookout for the above symptoms as they could be indicative of a stroke.

Diagnosing Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation

Nonvalvular AFib will be diagnosed by a doctor after carrying out a physical examination and going through your entire medical history. An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is usually also performed to understand how fast the heart is beating. This test also detects an irregular heartbeat and can further tell how strong the electrical signals are capable of passing through each chamber of the heart. However, an EKG or ECG is not a 100% foolproof test as it only records that one particular moment of your heart’s activity. Therefore, if at that particular moment the heartbeat is regular, the test will not be able to capture the irregularity of the heart’s rhythm. If your doctor is not satisfied with the results, then he or she will order a Holter monitor for recording events during 24 to 48 hours. All these tests are helpful in diagnosing non-valvular atrial fibrillation.

Treating Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation

Treatment of Non-valvular atrial fibrillation is very much possible and treatment options depend on the severity of your symptoms and your overall health condition. If you are not experiencing any symptoms or any heart-related problems, then it is also possible that your heartbeat will return to its regular pattern in some time without requiring any treatment. Treatment for nonvalvular AFib primarily revolves around the following:

  • Restoring a normal heart rhythm.
  • Preventing blood clots from forming.
  • Controlling the number of times the heart’s chambers contract and fill up with blood.

If one can control the number of times the heart’s chambers are contracting, then it is possible to control the symptoms of nonvalvular AFib. You will experience fewer symptoms and regardless of the irregular heartbeat, the risk of stroke goes down. This treatment is known as rate control.

Lifestyle Changes for Treating Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation

Medication and lifestyle changes also go hand in hand in order to improve your outlook. Lifestyle changes recommended for an individual suffering from nonvalvular AFib include:

  • Following a healthy diet.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Reducing the intake of salt to manage blood pressure.
  • Reducing the amount of stress.
  • Avoiding or limiting the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Avoiding smoking.

Medications for Treating Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation

Medications that are prescribed to individuals having nonvalvular AFib include:

  • Medication to control the rate of contraction of the chambers of the heart such as beta-blockers.
  • Blood-thinners, such as warfarin to lower the risk of stroke and preventing blood clots.
  • Medications for restoring a regular heartbeat such as amiodarone.

There may be side effects from some of these medications, so feel free to discuss with your doctor which medication works best for you.

Surgery for Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation

Surgery is also another option for treating nonvalvular AFib. Some procedures include:

  • Maze Heart Surgery: In this surgical procedure, small incisions are made in the upper part of the heart and then stitched together so that scar tissue can form. This impacts the electrical signals of the heart and restores the regular heartbeat.
  • Electrical Cardioversion: In this procedure, low-energy electrical shocks are given to the heart to restore the regular heart rhythm.
  • Pacemaker: In severe cases of nonvalvular AFib, a small, electrical device is inserted under the skin that keeps on sending an electrical pulse to your heart, thus ensuring normal rhythm.
  • Ablation: This involves damaging or scarring the parts of your heart that are responsible for sending irregular electrical signals, thus causing an irregular heartbeat.

Modifications of these parts ensure that your heart will begin to beat regularly again.

What is the Prognosis or Outlook for Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation?

People having Non-valvular atrial fibrillation are at a much higher risk of developing blood clots. Therefore, if left untreated, nonvalvular AFib can become a serious condition. However, there is a wide range of treatment options available that brings the heart back to its regular rhythm. Or these options can help reduce your symptoms as well.

Your doctor would be the right person to establish the perfect treatment plan that works for you. One of the ways to manage Non-valvular atrial fibrillation is to lower the risk of either developing heart disease or worsening the condition if you already have heart disease. Taking medications that are prescribed, lowering your cholesterol levels, indulging in gentle exercises regularly, and having an overall healthy lifestyle will go a long way in helping you manage this condition. So the prognosis or outlook of people suffering from non-valvular atrial fibrillation is good with treatment; and the outlook of non-valvular atrial fibrillation worsens if it is left untreated.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 2, 2019

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