When Your Heart Skips a Beat it May be A-fib – Are You at Risk?
Atrial fibrillation, commonly called A-fib, is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can cause poor blood flow through the body. Symptoms of A-fib can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, tiredness, and weakness, but some people experience no symptoms at all. People who suffer from A-fib are at a greater risk for stroke.
Dr. Shane Rowan, a doctor from the CardioVascular Institute of North Colorado explains A-fib to us.
Don't Dismiss Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, is not usually life-threatening on its own. However, if untreated, AF can cause serious complications.
“Atrial fibrillation is the most common rhythm disorder that we see. If you have it, it is important that you are evaluated so that we can help you reduced your risk of stroke,” said Dr. Shane Rowan, Electrophysiologist with the CardioVascular Institute of North Colorado.
AF increases the risk of stroke five-fold, according to the American Heart Association, and can also lead to congestive heart failure and chronic fatigue.
AF happens when the heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively. This can cause blood to pool and clot, potentially leading to a stroke. Normally the heart contracts and relaxes in a coordinated rhythm; however AF interferes with the heart’s normal electrical signals, causing an irregular, rapid heartbeat.
Are You at Risk?
About 3 million Americans suffer from AF, and that number is likely to double by 2035.* The following factors increase your risk for AF:
- Age (risk increases with age).
- History of heart disease, heart attack, heart surgery or valve problems.
- High blood pressure.
- Chronic conditions such as thyroid problems, sleep apnea and other medical problems.
- Alcohol consumption (for some people drinking alcohol can trigger AF).
- Family history of AF.
If you think you are experiencing AF, seek urgent medical care. A doctor can assess your condition and refer you to a cardiac electrophysiologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart arrhythmias. An electrophysiology study may be done to record
Restoring the Right Rhythm
“Atrial fibrillation can be a frustrating rhythm disorder to deal with because there is no quick fix,” said Dr. Rowan. “Since there are so many treatment options, it is important to talk with each patient and determine which option is right for them.”
Treatments for AF restore or reset the heart's rhythm so your heart can pump blood effectively. Physicians at the CardioVascular Institute of North Colorado can determine the best course of treatment for you, which may include one or more of the following options:”
- Lifestyle modifications to reduce risk factors – a heart-healthy, low-sodium diet; exercise; smoking cessation; avoiding alcohol.
- Medications may be used to slow down the rapid heart rate associated with AF and/or prevent clotting.
- Electrical cardioversion may be performed by a physician to restore normal heart rhythm using a precise electric shock defibrillator.
- Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that delivers a burst of radiofrequency energy through a thin, flexible tube inserted in a blood vessel. The treatment destroys tissue that triggers abnormal electrical signals.
- Surgery can be performed to disrupt electrical pathways that cause AF.
- Atrial pacemakers may be implanted to regulate the heart's rhythm.
Listen to Your Body
Don't ignore a racing, fluttering heartbeat or other signs of AF. Treatment for AF helps you feel better now and prevents more serious complications down the road. To learn more about treatment options and our team of cardiologists and electrophysiologists at CardioVascular Institute of North Colorado, please call 970-350-6162 or online at www.BannerHealth.com/CVI.
* Source: American Journal of Cardiology, December 2009.