Understanding Your Risks and Treatment Options for Atrial Fibrillation

Health Minute     Winter 2019

Did you know that atrial fibrillation (A Fib) is a common heart rhythm disorder, or arrhythmia, that currently affects more than five million Americans?  It’s believed that this number will even increase as people continue to live longer lives.  It’s even possible, though individual experiences may vary, that some who have this disorder may not even have symptoms at all.

It’s crucial to begin with an understanding of what A Fib actually is along with its diagnosis and treatment options, since those who have it are five-times at greater risk of having an ischemic stroke than those with normal heart rhythms.

A Fib essentially takes place when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat in a fast and irregular rhythm (fibrillation). The atria cannot contract and move blood effectively into the ventricle since the electrical impulses are so fast and chaotic.  This can lead to a pooling of blood which increases the risk of blood clots which can travel to the brain, and cause a stroke.

The most common symptom for A Fib is general fatigue though there are a number of other possible symptoms which include anxiety, confusion, dizziness, fainting, fatigue during exercise or activity, a fluttering or “thumping” in the chest, rapid and irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, weakness, or chest pain or pressure.  

Patients experiencing these symptoms are advised to see their doctor as soon as possible, and are advised to call 911 if experiencing chest discomfort of any kind.

Since some patients will have no symptoms at all, everyone is advised to have routine check-ups with their primary care physicians who may be able to detect unknown issues and refer them to a cardiologist for further diagnosis and treatment.

If an A Fib diagnosis is confirmed, specialists will pursue a course of treatment to prevent blood clots and manage other risk factors for stroke, reduce the contraction rate of the heart’s ventricles, restore normal heart rhythm, and treat any underlying causes.

Some treatments may include the use of medications to help lower heart rate and prevent blood clots; however, certain patients may qualify for a minimally invasive treatment that could even allow them to stop taking blood thinning medications altogether.

This remarkable procedure places an implant known as the WATCHMAN™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) Device in the heart’s left atrial appendage (LAA). The device, which is no larger than a quarter, permanently closes off the small pouch, and thereby reduces the risk of stroke. It has been approved in Europe since 2005, received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in the United States in 2015, and has since been implanted in more than 10,000 patients around the world.

Ask your healthcare provider today if you could benefit from an A Fib Clinic evaluation, or be sure to visit Middletown Cardiology Associates to learn more about this and other treatment options.