“Atrial fibrillation describes a condition, where the upper chamber of the heart lacks organized activity,” says McLeod Electrophysiologist, Dr. Rajesh Malik. “The prevalence of atrial fibrillation or afib is increasing as the population ages and our lifestyle changes. To understand afib, it’s best to appreciate the structure and process of the heart.”
The human heart has four chambers. The two upper chambers are referred to as right atrium and left atrium. With afib, those chambers are fibrillating or fluttering, essentially creating chaos.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Fatigue represents one of the most common symptoms that patients report. The patient gets extremely tired. Their endurance decreases. A person isn’t able to walk very far without feeling short of breath. They feel their heart racing or beating in an irregular manner. In short, an atrial fibrillation patient experiences fatigue, palpitations, and shortness of breath.
This chaos in the upper chamber keeps the heart from contracting and squeezing blood out as it should. In the upper chambers, there are certain areas that are like small pouches — left and right atrial appendages. Without the ability to squeeze the blood out in a timely manner, blood pools in these appendages.
When blood pools, it forms a clot. If the clot moves, bad news results. If it moves from the right side of your heart, the clot goes into your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can harm the lung and become life-threatening. If it moves from the left side of your heart, it’s either going down to your legs or up to your brain, where it can cause a stroke.
Treatment options are based on the patient’s symptoms, risk factors and other influences. In most cases, we start by treating atrial fibrillation with medications to control the symptoms. We might consider blood thinners to prevent the risk of stroke, to prevent pooling and blood clot formation.
There are also some treatment strategies for a much longer-term, a fix that doesn’t require relying on medications. Previously, the only option was giving somebody Warfarin, which has dangerous side effects with a risk of bleeding. Now, we have newer blood thinners and anticoagulants, such as Eliquis, Xarelto, Pradaxa and the Savaysa.
However, not everyone can take blood thinners. Some people have bleeding ulcers or bleeding diverticulitis. Others have repeated falls or a bleed in their brain. These people can’t tolerate blood thinners.
So, there’s a new option called the Watchman. With this procedure, we can place a type of cover into that atrial appendage. Even if there is blood clot formation, it can’t escape and travel to the brain.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
If you’re feeling the key symptoms of extreme fatigue, heart palpitations and shortness of breath, see your doctor or make an appointment with a cardiologist to pinpoint your problem.