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To Your Health: It’s Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month

Dr. Manoj Duggal | Supplied photo

Dr. Manoj Duggal | Supplied photo

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Updated: October 4, 2014 6:15AM



Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a serious, yet widely under recognized, condition.

It is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder, affecting about 3 million to 4 million people in the United States.

By 2050, that number is predicted to increase to 12 million to 14 million.

Although widely unknown to the general public, AFib needs to be taken seriously. It increases the risk of stroke by as much as five times and can contribute to heart failure and other heart conditions.

AFib symptoms

We are all born with a sinus rhythm, where all four chambers of the heart beat in sync. When someone develops AFib, the upper chambers, the atria, beat erratically, causing inefficient movement of blood into the lower chambers, known as the ventricles.

People with AFib often feel a fluttering in their chest, an unexplained racing of the heart, or that their heart is skipping beats. Other symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and lack of energy. At the same time, up to 10 percent of AFib patients have no symptoms at all.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is essential to see your doctor as soon as possible. An electrocardiogram generally diagnoses AFib.

AFib is a progressive condition. If it’s not treated, it will progress until it is permanent and untreatable. There are three categories as follow:

Paroxysmal AFib can come and go spontaneously, lasting for as little as a few minutes to a few days.

Persistent AFib lasts for more than a week and requires treatment for conversion to sinus rhythm.

With Permanent AFib, your normal heart rhythm can no longer be restored.

Know your risk factors

Certain conditions may contribute to developing AFib. These include hypertension, heart failure, valve problems, hyperthyroidism, COPD and sleep apnea. Treating these conditions will help reduce your risk.

AFib slows the movement of your blood, allowing it to pool. This can lead to the formation of blood clots and increase your risk of stroke.

We determine a person’s risk of stroke using the CHADSVASc scoring system, which assigns point values to various risk factors. Women and anyone over age 65 are at increased risk, as are people with congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes or a prior history of stroke or TIA.

Treating AFib

To reduce the risk of blood clots and strokes, a doctor may choose to prescribe blood thinners. Anti-arrhythmia medications are used to maintain sinus rhythm.

Electrical cardioversion uses electrodes to shock the heart into a normal rhythm. The use of medications is continued to maintain the sinus rhythm.

Ablation is a minimally invasive procedure, usually on an outpatient basis, that can eliminate short circuits in the heart by destroying them. This procedure is 75 percent to 80 percent effective in maintaining the sinus rhythm.

In some patients whose natural pacemaker is slow, the physician may choose to insert a pacemaker in order for treatment by medication to work most effectively.

Regardless of the method chosen, it is extremely important to have this condition treated.

The longer you wait for diagnosis and treatment, the more atrial fibrillation progresses and becomes increasingly difficult to treat. If you have any reason to believe you may have this condition, see a specialist.

Locally, an atrial fibrillation and advanced arrhythmia treatment clinic is located at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Franciscan St. James Health, Olympia Fields campus. For more information, call (708) 748-9952.

Dr. Manoj Duggal is an independent, board-certified cardiac electrophysiologist who chooses to practice at the Franciscan St. James Health Heart and Vascular Institute. Franciscan St. James is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.



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