Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Differences Worth Knowing

Electrical signals in the heart cause each of the parts to work as a team. What happens in cases of fibrillation is that these electric signals in the heart muscle fibers stop functioning in a regular manner. The signals become chaotic and this leads to an inability of the heart to contract properly or in a regular manner, thus throwing off the regular rhythm of the heart. Fibrillation refers to the rapid and irregular contractions of the muscle fibers in your heart. Atrial fibrillation and ventricular fibrillation are both heart conditions related to irregular heartbeats. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition in which an individual experiences abnormal heart rhythm, usually a very fast heart rate. This is caused by the irregular contractions of only the upper chambers of the heart (also known as atria). Meanwhile, ventricular fibrillation (VFib) is also a similar type of abnormal heart rhythm, but it occurs due to the irregular contractions of only the lower chambers of the heart (also known as ventricles). Both these conditions are caused by similar heart-related problems, but they are not to be mistaken as being the same type of problem. We explore the major differences and similarities between these two heart conditions.

Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Differences Based on Their Definition

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of the most common types of abnormal heart rhythm present in people. It occurs because the electrical signals being generated by the heart’s muscle fibers start to function abnormally, thus generating the signals in a chaotic manner through the upper chambers of the heart. These upper chambers of the heart are known as atria, and therefore the name atrial fibrillation. This condition lowers the ability of the atria, or the heart’s upper chambers to pump blood into the ventricles, which are the lower chambers of the heart. This leads to the heart beating too rapidly. This also puts a lot of pressure on the heart as it has to pump blood at a rapid pace.

What is Ventricular Fibrillation?

Ventricular fibrillation is also a problem with the abnormal heart rhythm. However, VFib occurs in the lower chambers of the heart, known as ventricles. The condition occurs when the heart starts beating with rapid and erratic electrical signals. This causes the ventricles to quiver unnecessarily, and can sometimes trigger a heart attack as well. Ventricular fibrillation or VFib causes a drop in your blood pressure and can potentially cut off blood supply to your organs. VFib is a life threatening condition and is also one of the most frequent causes of heart attacks and sudden cardiac death. If diagnosed, Ventricular fibrillation or VFib requires immediate treatment.

Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Differences Based on Their Symptoms

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Symptoms of Atrial fibrillation include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Palpitations or rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Fluttering sensation or ‘thumping’ feeling in the chest
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath along with a feeling of anxiety
  • Inability to exercise
  • Profuse sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure

Many times it is possible that people having Atrial fibrillation will experience no symptoms at all. Feeling pressure in the chest area or pain is often indicative of a heart attack. Therefore if ]you experience such symptoms, it warrants a trip to the emergency room as complications from Atrial fibrillation can include heart failure and stroke.

The key difference between the symptoms of Atrial fibrillation from a heart attack is that you may not experience any fluttering or heart palpitations in a heart attack. However, many heart-related problems also have the same types of symptoms, so it is always a good idea to get yourself checked out by a doctor.

Symptoms of Ventricular Fibrillation

Losing consciousness is one of the most common signs of Ventricular fibrillation or VFib. Other signs and symptoms of VFib include:

  • Tachycardia, or rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain

If you experience chest pain or lose consciousness, then you must seek emergency medical help immediately.

Do keep in mind that Ventricular fibrillation or VFib is one of the most serious heart rhythm disturbance so getting to the emergency room on time might just save your life.

Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Differences Based on How They Affect the Body?

Impact of Atrial fibrillation on the Body

In order to understand how any of these conditions affect the body, it is important to understand the natural process in which the heart pumps blood to the body. When the heart is healthy, it pumps blood from the upper chambers into the lower chambers in a span of a single heartbeat. During this same heartbeat, blood is then pumped from the lower chambers, or the ventricles, to the rest of the body.

When a person has Atrial fibrillation or AFib, the heart gets affected in a manner wherein the upper chambers, or the atria, are no longer able to pump the blood into the ventricles, thus causing it to flow passively. Further, in a person affected by Atrial fibrillation, the blood in the upper chambers of the heart may not empty out completely, thus pooling up inside. When this blood starts to pool, you are at a higher risk of developing a blood clot. These clots are what can lead to a stroke or even organ damage when they eventually get ejected from the lower chambers into circulation.

While Atrial fibrillation or AFib is not a life-threatening condition, it is nevertheless a serious medical condition that needs to be treated. If left untreated, then this condition could lead to serious complications such as a heart attack, a stroke, or blockage of blood vessels to organs.

Impact of Ventricular fibrillation or VFib on the Body

As stated already, Ventricular fibrillation or VFib is a life-threatening condition. It leads to a disorderly state of functioning of the heart along with irregular electrical activity in the ventricles. When this happens, the ventricles are unable to contract and pump blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. If you develop VFib, your body will stop receiving blood that it requires to function and live. As the heart is no longer pumping blood, if no timely treatment is given, VFib will cause sudden death.

The only treatment available for Ventricular fibrillation or VFib is to correct the irregular beating of the heart by giving it an electrical shock with a defibrillator. If the individual is administered the shock treatment in time, then the defibrillator can possibly revert the heart back to its normal and regular pattern. If you have an existing heart condition or if you have already suffered Ventricular fibrillation more than once, then your doctor might suggest you opt for an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This device is implanted into the chest wall and it has electrical leads that connect to your heart. The ICD then continues to constantly monitor the electrical activities of your heart. If an irregular rhythm or irregular heartbeat is detected, it automatically sends out an electrical shock to return the heart back to its normal pattern.

You cannot leave Ventricular fibrillation untreated. The survival rate from VFib is extremely low and even a 15 minutes delay can lower your chances of survival. People who are not treated timely or properly, have a higher risk of suffering long-term heart damage or may even enter a coma.

Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Differences Based on their Causes

There are many causes that are thought to contribute to the development of both these heart diseases. The causes that are common to both Atrial fibrillation or AFib and Ventricular fibrillation or VFib include:

  • Drugs
  • Alcohol consumption
  • History of heart disease
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Excessive smoking
  • Metabolic imbalances
  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of stress
  • Severe infections, particularly in the lungs or chest region
  • Diet that contains excessively high levels of animal fat
  • Regular consumption of stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, or some medications

Apart from the similarities in their causes, many times, the cause of both these conditions remains unknown. AFib can at times be a direct result of damage to the heart’s electrical system from other indirect conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, etc. AFib is also one of the most common complications that crop up after heart surgery.

Similarly, the most common cause for Ventricular fibrillation or VFib also remains a problem with the electrical signals that travel through the heart. Scars or damage from a previous heart can also cause VFib. Congenital heart disease, severe electrolyte abnormalities, or even cardiomyopathy can cause Ventricular fibrillation.

Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Major Overall Differences

One of the primary differences between these two very similar heart conditions is that Ventricular fibrillation can prove to be life-threatening if immediate treatment is not begun. Meanwhile, Atrial fibrillation or AFib is generally not life threatening immediately, but it can lead to problems with the proper functioning of the heart. This can prove to be extremely dangerous if it is not treated properly. Some of the other differences between AFib and VFib include:

Atrial fibrillation or AFib produces irregular electrical signals in the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria. This causes the atria to beat irregularly and more rapidly than normal. AFib also does not pose an immediate threat.

On the other hand, VFib also produces irregular electrical signals, but in the lower chambers of the heart, known as ventricles. This becomes a chaotic process and the heart muscles are unable to pump blood properly. This condition poses an immediate life threat and needs to be treated immediately, otherwise, it can lead to death as well.

Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Looking at the Similarities

There are many similarities between the two conditions. These include:

Both Atrial fibrillation or AFib and Ventricular fibrillation or VFib, are types of heart disease and are considered to be a type of arrhythmia, meaning a condition that produces an irregular heartbeat.

Both these conditions are detected through the use of electrocardiography (ECGs or EKGs) and CPR defibrillators. CPR defibrillators are machines that are used for identifying arrhythmias and if required, they can also deliver shocks or electrical signals to the heart for treating a life-threatening situation in cases of VFib.

Atrial Fibrillation vs. Ventricular Fibrillation: Differences Based On Their Treatment

Atrial fibrillation or AFib is known to sometimes automatically revert back to a normal heart rhythm and requires no further treatment. The treatment option for many patients having Ventricular fibrillation includes having heart rate-controlling medications. Some others may respond better to electrical cardioversion, which involves giving the heart an electrical shock that resets the heart’s normal electrical pattern. Destroying the damaged or malfunctioning heart tissue, known as ablation, can also be used to correct Atrial fibrillation or AFib.

Meanwhile, Ventricular fibrillation or VFib is an emergency situation that requires immediate treatment. Most commonly it is treated with an electrical shock to the heart with the use of a defibrillator. CPR techniques combined with chest compressions are used to tide over the time period during which a defibrillator is being arranged. An electric shock from the defibrillator resets the heartbeat and the heart resumes its normal electrical signal and becomes organized again to continue pumping blood. In certain serious cases though, defibrillation might not work as the heart is damaged beyond repair, and the patient may end up dying due to a heart attack or stroke.

Conclusion

While both these heart conditions are threatening in their own ways, it is best if we look at how to prevent these conditions from occurring in the first place. Having a heart-healthy lifestyle is a requirement that everyone should follow in today’s stressful times. A healthy lifestyle will also lower your chances of getting either Atrial fibrillation or AFib or Ventricular fibrillation or VFib. Regular exercising and a diet rich in heart-healthy foods are key to remain healthy. You should also limit your intake of saturated and trans fats to keep your heart healthy. Some prevention tips you can follow are given below.

  • Avoid excess consumption of alcohol or caffeine
  • Quit smoking today
  • Control your intake of high cholesterol foods
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Monitor and, if needed, manage your blood pressure
  • Seek timely treatment for lifestyle condition such as obesity and diabetes
  • Treat underlying conditions that can lead to heart-related diseases at the starting stage itself.

If you have already been diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation or AFib or Ventricular fibrillation or VFib, then you must work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that works best for you. Along with this, also work on developing a lifestyle program that will help you address your risk factors. Both these heart conditions are treatable, but a timely intervention is a must to avoid complications later on.

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