The normal adult heart beats almost as regularly as a metronome, between 60 and 100 beats per minute. I say ALMOST, because when you let your breath out, the VAGUS nerve slows the normal heart slightly.
This is called Sinus Arrhythmia; SINUS because the electrical signal for the heart to contract originates in the usual place, the SINUS NODE.
ARRYTHMIA refers to the irregularity of the beat. Normally, the sinus node originates the electrical impulse, automatically generating the rhythm. The impulse spreads in an organized fashion throughout the Atria causing them to contract and send the collected blood to the ventricles.
The AV node is then activated, and after a slight delay, to allow the ventricles to fill, the impulse spreads to the Ventricles, causing them to contract, The heart is designed to be most efficient above 50 beats per minute, and below about 120. The rate is higher in the young and athletic. Athletes often have an efficient resting pulse in the 40s.
The arrhythmias usually cause the heart to beat too FAST. The most common arrhythmia is ATRIAL FIBRILLATION. In this condition, the upper chambers, the Atria, do not beat in a coordinated manner. The sinus node no longer regularly originates the electrical impulse because the electrical activity is continuously traveling in a disorganized way throughout the upper chambers in a self-propagating manner.
This quivering of the Atria allows the blood to pool in an area called the Atrial Appendages. This stagnant, pooled blood tends to clot, particularly if there is inflammation already present in the heart from vessel damage, obesity, or simply old age.
These CLOTS may find their way into the systemic circulation, and cause a STROKE. Another symptom of Atrial fibrillation is related to the irregular beats, which creates the sensation of PALPITATIONS, which causes you to be AWARE of your heart beating, and can be disturbing.
ATRIAL FLUTTER, and SUPRAVENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIA are other Arrhythmias. Some conditions cause the heart rate to be too SLOW. SICK SINUS SYNDROME is when the sinus node, the PACEMAKER, becomes more and more disordered, sometimes causing the heart to slow excessively, and produce FAINTING, sometimes producing a rapid heart rate.
Heart block is where the signal from the atria don’t reach the ventricles properly, sometimes not at all. The unsignaled ventricles still beat, but more slowly by an intrinsic, “idioventricular” rhythm.
My own experiences with ATRIAL FIBRILLATION will illustrate the problem and it’s treatment. A RAPID HEART BEAT was my introduction into arrhythmias. The rate was 140, and the EKG showed ATRIAL FLUTTER.
My Doctor gave me some PROPAFENONE to attempt a “chemical conversion” but it didn’t work, and i was given a CARDIOVERSION in the ER. The Arrhythmia returned in the form of ATRIAL FIBRILLATION within a couple of weeks. Back to the ER, and another cardioversion.
I was given propafenone, but that didn’t hold me much longer. A RADIOFREQUENCY ABLATION, where the focal points of aberrant electrical activation were isolated kept me in SINUS RHYTHM for a couple of years.
When the Fibrillation returned, Propafenone worked for a while, after which another Ablation, more propafenone, bood level regulation of propafenone to peak at night ( I invariably started fibrillation at night) and so on. With periodic trips to the ER for Cardioversion, I got by for a Decade.
Finally, when regulating the Propafenone couldn’t hold me in Sinus Rhythm longer than a month, I gave up, let myself go on fibrillating, and started taking ELEQUIS to PREVENT EMBOLI AND STROKE. Back when I first started fibrillating I had 2 main reasons for wanting to return to sinus rhythm..
First, I wanted to avoid ANTICOAGULANTS, which initially meant WARFARIN, and regular blood checks. At least, when I finally resigned myself to Fibrillation, Eliquis was available.
The second reason was to avoid medications, including beta blockers,which would be necessary to keep my heart rate in the acceptable range, 80 or below. By the time I gave up on controlling the AF, my rate was in the 70s, going down into the 50s, even while fibrillating.
This good fortune may have been caused another mild heart aberration I had all along, a Partial BUNDLE BRANCH BLOCK, which slowed down the electrical signals to my ventricles. Sometimes you get lucky, and 2 “wrongs” sometimes DO make a “right”. But don’t count on it.
Keep yourself as healthy as possible. Atrial fibrillation is more common with obesity and heart disease. SLEEP APNEA is also a cause, and should be ruled out if you develop Atrial fibrillation. I had a Sleep study, which showed that I had Sleep Apnea, which will be a story i will tell later.
Eliquis nicely illustrates my contention in the Overview of Metabolism, that the body is a vast collection of pathways, or “supply chains”. Eliquis blocks a critical enzyme in the pathway leading to coagulation, or clotting” as the product.
Why in the world you want to block clotting? The staunching of blood flow, clotting, has saved countless hordes of early, Paleolithic humans, and continued useful through the bloody Roman and Medieval times, right through the violent 20th Century.
Recently, however, wars are becoming somewhat less popular, and eating excessively more popular, leading to a strange situation. Our evolutionarily-preserved CLOTTING mechanism is now leading to MORE problems than it is solving.
Obesity and type 2 Diabetes are leading to the production of so much fat, that it has to be stored in our arterial walls, clogging the blood flow to our Hearts and Brain, among other areas. This, and the somewhat surprising trend towards longer lives has led to an increase in a variety of age-related illnesses.
When I reached 80 years of age I developed Atrial Fibrillation, a condition leading to a tendency to form clots in my quivering atria, the upper chambers of my heart. To decrease the likelihood of clots getting into my blood stream, lodging in my brain and causing STROKE, my cardiologist started me on Eliquis, an anti-coagulant/blood thinner.
Drugs have three names. The proprietary name, Eliquis in this case, is given by the patenting company to be memorable; q,z,and x are popular letters. The second is the FDA drug name, Apixaban. The drug name often gives the doctor a clue as to its type: xaban refers to inhibiting (banning) of factor 10a (Xa). The third name is a chemical name of interest to biochemists and drug researchers.
When I started the Eliquis, at first unknown to me, I started to bleed internally, leading to a drop in my hemoglobin down to 8.6. I will go into this story when I start going through “how to read your laboratory report”.
I found that reducing my Eliquis from 5mg. to 3.75 mg. allowed me stabilize my hemoglobin by taking extra iron, which I will discuss later.
The doseage selected when the drug company markets a drug is fairly arbitrary, and usually involves round numbers. Interestingly, there is a 2.5mg. Eliquis, which is given if you meet 2 out of 3 criteria. I meet only one and am only 5 pounds shy of the second, in case you think (like my cardiologist does) that I’m taking a risk.
I believe that, whenever you are given a medication, you should be educated about the medicine, and the problem it is intended to benefit. Today’s physician often does not have the time to do this. The internet, including this website, offers a corrective.
I am trying my best to be helpful to you as a Patient Advocate. You and I both must have a doctor to rely upon. But to get the most out of our care, WE MUST BE INFORMED.
Atrial fibrillation is chaotic and irregular atrial arrhythmia, the prevalence of which increases progressively with age. It causes significant morbidity and death. Many patients are asymptomatic or have symptoms that are less specific for cardiac arrhythmias, such as mild dementia or silent strokes.
Gregory Lip, Price-Evans Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Liverpool, gives us an overview of the condition.