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Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rate, known as arrhythmia, affecting more than 2 million Americans. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart chambers fail to function correctly, resulting in irregular and often rapid heart rate and poor blood flow to the body. While some patients experience episodes of atrial fibrillation that come and go, others suffer from permanent atrial fibrillation, where episodes of irregular heartbeat last for a prolonged period of time. Cases of chronic atrial fibrillation are especially serious because they can cause debilitating symptoms such as palpitations and fatigue, which can diminish quality of life over time.
Fortunately, research has helped further the treatment of permanent atrial fibrillation. Through the use of medications, cardioversion (electrical shock) and medical procedures, doctors can help patients maintain regular heart rates and prevent blood clots, a common complication with arrhythmias. However, these treatments are not 100% effective in all patients, and may not always relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. In fact, a recent study titled RACE II (Rate Control Efficacy in Permanent Atrial Fibrillation II) reported that factors such as severity of symptoms, age and overall health were stronger determinants of a patient’s quality of life rather than the effectiveness of treatments in controlling heart rate. They also found that patients that were female or had preexisting cardiovascular conditions were more likely to have a poorer quality of life than patients that were male or healthier overall.
Based on these study findings, stringency of heart rate control does not appear to have an effect on quality of life. Therefore, patients with very good heart rate control do not necessarily have fewer symptoms of atrial fibrillation and/or better quality of life, and vice versa. Instead, it may be more important to address other factors, such as overall health, to improve quality of life in patients with permanent atrial fibrillation.
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