Dr. Maciej Malinski is on the medical staff at Sherman Hospital. He has been kind enough to answer some frequently asked questions related to maintaining a healthy heart in his Ask the Cardiologist series. To see all posts Dr. Malinski has written, just type “Ask the Cardiologist” into the search bar on the right.
Thanks to Navreet for asking this question, which came all the way from India!
Q: Can atrial fibrillation lead to ventricle fibrillation? If not, why they are not interrelated?
A: This question is a little difficult as there is not one straightforward answer. Generally, atrial fibrillation (AF) does not lead to ventricular fibrillation (VF). Even though the names sound alike, the electrical events are different and also have different prognoses.
Occasionally, if the heart is quivering very quickly in AF, the rhythm can “degenerate” to VF, but this is a very rare occurrence. VF is a malignant heart rhythm leading to quick deterioration of the patients, and if not treated immediately it results in sudden cardiac death (SCD).
You ask why these rhythms are not interrelated. Atrial fibrillation originates in the upper heart chambers (atria) or pulmonary veins that bring the blood from lungs to the atria. Then, the impulse is conducted to the lower chamber (ventricle), causing a fast heart rate. But, coordinated organized contraction is preserved in the ventricle. Basically, this means that heart (as a pump) is still functioning.
In atria, there is no organized electrical activity. As a result, there is no coordinated contraction of the atria. But atria are believed to contribute only 20% to overall function of the heart as a pump, and this decrease is usually not significant enough to cause a quick decline in clinical status.
If AF goes for hours and the heart rate is high, eventually the patient can develop some symptoms. In the case of VF, there is no organized electrical or mechanical activity in the ventricles (which are the main pumping chambers), and that results in sudden cardiac death in a matter of seconds.
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This post is published by Sherman Health to provide general health information. It is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.