Atrial Fibrillation (Afib) is an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm. It affects 1 in 25 people in the United States, and the instances increase with age to 1 in 10 people over 80 years old! Symptoms might include: fast heart rate, or feeling like your heart is beating very fast or racing, chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheaded or dizziness, fatigue or weakness, activity intolerance.
How do I know if I have Afib?
Often times, people don’t even know they’re in Afib. Just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s not important to treat. The biggest risk with Afib is stroke and sometimes people find out they are in Afib once they have a stroke. If you have Afib once, it’s likely you’ll get it again. Symptoms might include: fast heart rate, or feeling like your heart is beating very fast or racing, chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheaded or dizziness, fatigue or weakness, activity intolerance. After the first sign, it’s important to get checked out to see what treatment options are right for you.
A patient’s story
Here at TMCA, we see many patients who are experiencing Afib for the first time. Take “Sara”, for example. She’s a 60 year old woman who had sudden onset of dizziness, felt a “fluttering” in her chest, and was short of breath. Thinking it was a heart attack, she called 911 and came to the ER. On her way in, the paramedics did an electrocardiogram (EKG) and determined she was in atrial fibrillation with a rapid ventricular response (Afib with RVR).
When she arrived to the ER, the staff made quick work of getting Sara settled and safe and called the cardiologist on-call to determine the correct plan of action for her. Because it was her first episode of Afib, the doctor chose to cardiovert (use an electrical shock to restore the rhythm) and, almost immediately, Sara felt better! She was admitted to the hospital for observation and we watched her heart rhythm using a remote monitor for a night while our Cardiac Nurse Navigator assisted setting her up with an electrophysiologist (a cardiologist who specializes in arrhythmias) for outpatient follow up. She started a medication to help prevent blood clots (a big risk with Afib!) and was discharged the next afternoon.
We have an excellent team of cardiologists and electrophysiologists who specialize in arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms). While it can feel very scary to get a new diagnosis, especially with something related to your heart, our team is ready to walk alongside you on this journey.
What can I do to prevent Afib, or prevent future episodes of Afib?
Some things that contribute to Afib occurrences are alcohol consumption, smoking, sleep apnea, obesity, stress, inactive lifestyle, and high blood pressure. There are, of course, things you can’t change, like previous heart surgeries, lung or kidney diseases, age, thyroid disorders, or genetics.
So much of Afib management is within your control. See your doctor regularly, keep a list of your current medications and take them as directed. Learning as much as you can about Afib and your health history will allow you to take control of your life. We’re on your team, but you must also play an active role in your healthcare!