If you’ve got AFib, you’re not alone.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most commonly treated arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm in the nation. This condition is more likely to develop as we age, and it’s estimated that 12.1 million people in the United States will have AFib in 2030 (CDC).
What is AFib?
You may be told you have an arrhythmia if your heart beats too slowly, too fast or irregularly. If you have AFib, it means there is an irregular or rapid heart rhythm in the upper chambers (atria) of the heart. When this occurs, the heart does not contract normally, and blood that is not pumped completely out of the atria may pool or clot, leading to an increased risk for stroke.
Types of AFib
AFib can come and go, or it may be permanent. Typically, the condition is classified in one of three ways:
- Paroxysmal AFib: Occurs when the rapid rhythm in the heart’s upper chambers starts and stops suddenly, usually lasting for several minutes to a few days at a time.
- Persistent AFib: Occurs when the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly for more than seven days, and medical intervention or drug therapy is needed to stop the episode.
- Permanent AFib: Occurs when the heart’s upper chambers frequently beat erratically at very high rates. This is the most severe form of AFib
Symptoms of AFib
Some people, especially those with only brief episodes of AFib, may not experience symptoms. Others may notice one or more of the following:
- Irregular heart beat
- Heart palpitations (racing, fluttering or pounding)
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath, especially with activity
- Chest pain
Who is at Risk for AFib?
Like many diseases, certain risk factors for AFib are within our control and others are not. Risk factors for AFib include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Chronic kidney disease
- Alcohol and drug use
- Family history
Why Treat AFib?
When left untreated or undetected, AFib patients are five times more likely to have a stroke than those with normal heart rhythms. According to the CDC, AFib causes approximately 1 in 7 strokes, and strokes caused by complications of AFib are often more severe and debilitating than those attributed to other underlying causes. Individuals with uncontrolled AFib are also at greater risk of developing heart failure.
Additionally, because AFib causes inefficient pumping of the heart, the disease can lead to chronic fatigue and other heart rhythm problems.
How is AFib Treated
Medication is often the first treatment method used to manage AFib, and most patients will remain on blood thinners long-term to reduce the risk of stroke. Additionally, there are several other treatment options to manage symptoms, especially if medications are not effective.
- Ablation: A minimally invasive catheter approach that freezes or burns tissue in the heart’s upper chambers, traditionally around the pulmonary vein for AFib treatment, to block the electrical signals that trigger erratic heart rhythms.
- Cardioversion: Traditionally used with persistent AFib patients, small, timed electrical shocks to the heart help to restore normal rhythm. This procedure is performed while in the hospital.
- Implantable defibrillator or pacemaker: A small, stopwatch-sized device placed under the skin in the upper chest that delivers electrical shocks or painless pacing therapy to restore the heart’s normal rate and rhythm.
- Surgical Intervention: A maze procedure is a heart surgery that treats AFib by making several incisions in a specific pattern. The scar tissue then disrupts the abnormal heart rhythm while allowing normal heart signals to come through.
If you have symptoms of AFib or a family history of this condition, talk to your provider today. Fairfield Medical Center’s dedicated electrophysiologists are prepared to meet your needs and restore your peace of mind using the latest technology.