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Atrial Fibrillation: What You Need to Know

Six million people in American suffer from an abnormal heart rhythm.

By Dr. James Richardson

Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that affects more than six million people in America. It is irregular and is a common, although not the only, cause of “skipped beats” patients may feel or report to their doctors. There are many other causes of palpitations or skipped beats, some of which are benign. 

Afib is commonly not benign. The presence of Afib may predispose to stroke.  This serious complication of Afib may be devastating for a patient and is the main reason why atrial fibrillation needs to be properly treated. Often, blood thinners such as warfarin or some newer anticoagulant medications are used to reduce the risk of stroke in the presence of Afib. 

Afib also can cause the heart to race out of control, causing an erratic and very fast heart beat. If the heart races out of control for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to heart failure or even heart attack. 

This is another reason why atrial fibrillation needs to be properly treated. To reduce this risk, doctors can prescribe medicines to control the heart rates and sometimes even try to force the heart to convert back to a normal heart rhythm. In addition, an electrical shock (cardioversion) can be performed to “reset” the heart back in normal rhythm. 

This procedure is done under anesthesia and is often of low risk.

Somewhat less commonly, Afib can cause the heart to go too slow and even cause a patient to pass out, fall, and injure themselves. If the heart is going too slow in the presence of Afib, a pacemaker is often needed to correct the slow heart beats thereby reducing the risk of passing out.

Afib has no cure, although effective treatments are available. The range of treatments include: lifestyle modifications, treatment of exacerbating conditions, medications to control the heart rates, medication to “reset” or keep the heart in a normal rhythm, cardioversion, surgical ablation procedures, and catheter ablation procedures.

Editor's Note: Dr. Richardson is a cardiologist with Frazier-Hart Cardiovascular, affiliated with the Washington Physicians Group. The information in this article is provided by the Washington Physicians Group for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care, and medical advice and services are not being offered. If you have, or suspect you have, a health problem you should consult your physician. The Washington Physicians Group provides links to other organizations as a service to our readers; the Washington Physicians Group is not responsible for information provided in other websites.

Donald Fletcher July 03, 2012 at 05:16 PM
My name is Donald Fletcher and I had Afib. I’ve gone from 8 medications to 1, an Aspirin! My actual problem is Sleep Apnea, but I didn’t find that out for a long time. From what I understand they are just now starting to link High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and Afib, to Sleep Apnea. I would snore and my wife would say, “I can’t hold my breath for as long as you stop breathing”. Initially, the Sleep Apnea caused me to gain weight. Because I didn’t get enough sleep, my oxygen level decreased, and this started destroying my organs (Diabetes), eventually effecting my heart. As a result of the Afib, I went to see Dr. Oza at St.Vincents Medical Center. He prescribed several medications to try to get my heart beat regulated. Then he tried to shock my heart back in rhythm, neither treatment worked. Next he did a Catheter Ablation procedure. He scheduled the Ablation for December of 2010. Ten days after the Ablation, my heart skipped out of beat again, and had to be shocked into rhythm one last time in January 2011. After this my heart finally started to sort out. At my three-month checkup he said everything looked fine. I lost 40-50 lbs. As my weight was coming down, the insulin and the other meds started dropping off. I was able to quit everything except my heart meds. Three months after the Ablation procedure, Dr. Oza took me off all my meds. I kept the aspirin (81mg) and that’s it! It has been over a year now.
James McGauley August 21, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I underwent a heart ablation in the summer of 2009 to correct an atrial fibrillation condition that was detected several years earlier but was not controlled effectively via drug therapy. The procedure was performed without complications by Dr. Saumil Oza and his team at St. Vincent's Medical Center, and after a brief period of recuperation I resumed normal activity. Within a matter of days, I realized that "normal" had a new meaning. I had lived with the atrial fibrillation for years, and it took the ablation and resulting corrected heart rhythm to bring about a marked surge in my energy level with less fatigue and an overall sense of "fitness." I was struck by the professionalism of Dr. Oza and the ablation team, and the coordination between his team and my cardiologist Dr. Steven Nauman at St. Vincent's. The ablation itself is minimally invasive considering that it is correcting an abnormality inside the heart itself, and the recovery period was brief and generally comfortable. I would readily recommend it, along with Dr. Oza and his team, to anyone qualifying as a candidate to correct atrial fibrillation. I found out more information by visiting www.myfastheartbeatjax.com and calling St. Vincent’s Medical Hospital at 1(888) 418-4754. Jim McGauley, Publisher The Baker County Press Macclenny
Mary Ann Knob October 25, 2012 at 12:52 PM
I too have found it very helpful! You can visit www.myfastheartbeatjax.com or call St. Vincent's Medical Hospital at 1(888)-418-4754. Here is the link to my Afib Story! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsbAglr5Q5c&feature=results_video
Dr. Oza December 13, 2012 at 04:16 PM
This presentation about Catheter Ablation given by Dr. Saumil Oza, a cardiac electrophysiologist who practices at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville, FL, goes in depth about important questions he's been previously asked during presentations. Watch is here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJbpshrm71Y&feature=youtu.be
Dr. Oza January 22, 2013 at 02:41 PM
We are a new Facebook page showing our viewers how severe Atrial Fibrillation can be. Please go view our cause page at http://www.facebook/AnsweringAfib And don’t forget to like!

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