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With Atrial Fibrillation, the Heart Beats Out of Rhythm

MASON, Ohio (February 5, 2016) – As we go about our daily lives, the heart does its work, usually unnoticed.

That may not be the case, however, for those with atrial fibrillation, or A. Fib, the most common type of irregular heart rhythm, or heart arrhythmias. The American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA) says up to 2.7 million Americans have A. Fib.

During A. Fib, there is chaotic electrical activity in the upper chamber (atria) of the heart. The upper chamber of the heart beats fast and irregularly. This can result in the lower chamber of the heart (ventricle) beating fast.

A Fib results in ineffective pumping of the blood from the atria. The stagnation of blood in the upper chamber, especially in the small out pouching of upper chamber called left atrial appendage, can increase the risk of clot formation and stroke.

Not everyone with A. Fib displays symptoms. For those who do show symptoms, general fatigue seems to be the most common. The symptoms vary from person to person. Among other common symptoms are rapid and irregular heartbeat, fluttering or thumping in the chest, dizziness and shortness of breath, and confusion.

As always, those who experience chest pain are asked to call 911 because it could also be a symptom of a cardiac emergency, such as heart attack.

Patients at higher risk are encouraged to get regular medical checkups as the arrhythmia can be asymptomatic. If an arrhythmia is detected during a checkup or treatment of another medical concern, further evaluation could be recommended.

Diagnostic tests used in checking for A. Fib include:

  • Electrocardiograms to record the heart’s electrical activity
  • Event recording, involving a monitor of the heart’s activity over a longer period, usually 30 days.
  • Holter monitoring, a portable device to record heart activity for a set period, often 24 or 48 hours

Among risk factors for A. Fib are age, with those over 60 considered at greater risk.

Among other risk factors and causes are:

Goals of treatment of A Fib are:

  • Preventing blood clots
  • Reducing the number of times per minute the ventricles contract
  • Restoring a normal heart rhythm
  • Treating underlying conditions that can contribute to A. Fib

Treatment for atrial fibrillation typically starts with medication such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers to control ventricular rate. If this isn’t successful, there are non-surgical procedures including electrical cardioversion and ablation.

Cardioversion involves delivering electric shocks to the heart to restore a normal heart rhythm. Ablation involves directing a catheter to locations on the heart to scar the tissue and prevent the generation of the electrical pathways responsible for arrhythmia.

Patients are placed on blood thinners based on their risk of stroke. Physicians also have surgical treatment options, including pacemaker implantation and maze (open heart) surgery in selected patients.

Although there may be some restrictions depending on the patient, those diagnosed with A. Fib typically can continue to pursue their daily activities.

For more information on atrial fibrillation, please visit premierhealth.com/afib.

Cardiology services, including outpatient cardiac testing, are available at Atrium Health Center Mason – located at 7450 Mason-Montgomery Road.

Article originally published in the February 2016 issue of My River’s Bend magazine.

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