When it comes to irregular heart beats, the most popular kid in the class is Atrial Fibrillation. Affecting over 2 million folks in the US, there are over 150,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Atrial Fibrillation (AF) features disorganized electrical activity in the upper chambers of the heart, which translates into rapid and random vibrations in these chambers.
The concern is that AF can lead to increased risks of stroke or heart failure.
RISK FACTORS FOR AF:
1) Age is the number one risk factor for AF - and although there are many great doctors out there, one thing we have had a problem finding a cure for is getting older, no matter what we try, we do get older every day. Sorry.
The numbers on age - 4% of people over 65 and 11% of individuals over 80 are affected by AF. When it comes to medicine, 1 out of 20 and 1 out of 10 is a lot of people.
2) Obesity. Being overweight likely brings on high blood pressure and likely gets you moving towards heart disease. These increase the risk of AF.
3) Drinking alcohol can bring about AF. Binge drinking increases the risk even more.
4) Thyroid issues, sleep apnea, and more.
SYMPTOMS OF AF:
Symptoms are wide when it comes to AF, and sometimes people don't even realize they are having an episode.
1) Palpitations or fluttering of the heart
2) Mild fatigue
3) Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
4) Chest pains
5) Confusion or lightheadedness
6) Decreased blood pressure
1) Diagnosis can happen as simply as a doctor taking a pulse or listening to your heart with a stethoscope.
2) EKG (Electrocardiogram) is a noninvasive test that records electrical waves given off by the heart. It is the most reliable method of detecting AF.
3) Holter monitors are worn when AF has more of a come-and-go pattern with an individual. Wearing this monitor allows for detection over time.
When treating AF, the ultimate goal is to get the heart back to a regular heart beat. There are a few pathways back to regularity…
1) Often, we start with medications to thin the patient's blood. This is important, as it can help to reduce risk of blood clots and of stroke. (NOTE - Be SURE to take your blood thinners exactly as your doctor prescribes. Over/under usage here is not a good thing.)
2) Medications for AF. These can be as intense as intravenous with constant monitoring. There are also oral medications. It all depends on the individual situation, and it's all in an effort to restore that normal rhythm.
3) Electrical treatments. Electric shocks are delivered to the heart. This can be done with those big paddles that you see on television or with small patches place on the chest. What happens here is the electric current actually STOP the heart - weird right? - but the hope is that it will restart on a normal rhythm and then maintain that rhythm.
Atrial Fibrillation is a real deal. What's most important is that if you feel an episode of AF, see your doctor. Irregular heartbeats can lead to bad news in the short or long-term.
Dr. William Fonbah