When your heart skips a beat, flutters or races away it could be the beginning of a serious rhythm called atrial fibrillation (Afib for short). Sometimes patients have no symptoms at all and are surprised when an EKG is done and shows Afib.
Some of the common questions that I get asked about Afib are:
How common is Afib?
•It is one the most common rhythm problems. An estimated 2.7–6.1 million people in the United States have AFib. With the aging U.S. population, this number is expected to increase in the future.
•Approximately 2% of people younger than age 65 have AFib, while about 9% of people age 65 years or older have AFib.
•African Americans are less likely than those of European descent to have AFib.
•Because AFib cases increase with age, and women generally live longer than men, more women than men experience AFib.
•Women with Afib also have a higher risk of stroke than men.
What are the common causes of Afib?
Aging is the most common cause of Afib. Other causes are sleep apnea, a hyperactive thyroid and excessive alcohol consumption.
What are the symptoms of Afib?
Some people who have AFib don’t know they have it and don’t present symptoms. Others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
• Irregular heartbeat
• Heart palpitations(rapid, fluttering, or pounding)
• Extreme fatigue
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
Can I limit my Afib episodes?
You can- by eating well, participating in moderate exercise, drinking alcohol in moderation, losing weight, and treating high blood pressure, sleep apnea or a thyroid problem.
My mother had Afib, is it genetic?
If I don’t have any symptoms of Afib, why should I care?
You should…Even if Afib causes you no symptoms; it still has the potential to cause devastating strokes. We use a stroke risk assessment score called the CHADS VASc score. If the score is two or more, you should be on blood thinners such as Warfain, or the newer ones such as Eliquis or Xarelto.
Why do strokes occur with Afib?
When you have Afib, the upper chambers of your heart stop pumping blood (luckily, we don’t need these chambers to pump blood through our body, that’s the job of the lower chambers, the ventricles). When this happens, blood stagnates in a small pouch called the left atrial appendage and clots form. These clots maybe be thrown to the brain and cause strokes.
I don’t like the idea of taking a blood thinner or I have had bleeding with a blood thinner, is there an alternative?
Yes, there is! Last year the FDA approved a device called the Watchman device which is implanted in the heart to occlude or block the left atrial appendage. This device is as good as warfarin in preventing stokes with no long term bleeding risk.
I have frequent symptoms of heart racing, shortness of breath, fatigue and have Afib. How can I get back to a normal rhythm and stay there?
If you are experiencing Afib, the quick way to get back to normal rhythm is to have a shock across your chest (with sedation!) called a cardioversion. Sometimes this does not work and then you may need medication and even a procedure called an ablation.
What is the usual patient that needs an ablation?
A patient has symptoms of Afib, when their medication designed to keep the heart in normal rhythm has failed.
Do pacemakers help with Afib?
Not really, unless there is an associated slow heart rate. In some situations when medications have failed, we do a quick ablation called an AV Node Ablation after a pacemaker procedure is performed. This prevents the pulse from going fast even if you are in Afib.
For more information, please call Eastside Heart & Vascular at (770) 736-6300 or visit EastsideHeart.com.