When your heart beat changes from a normal pattern to one so irregular that it can sound like shoes bouncing around in your dryer, one diagnosis is Atrial Fibrillation. McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon Cary Huber, MD, discusses the condition, symptom and possible treatments:
Here’s a summary of Dr. Huber’s comments:
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rate and heartbeat. It’s the most common arrhythmia experienced by the adult population. It affects about 10% of the population over age 75 and about 5% over age 65. Its incidence increases with age.
Occasionally people in atrial fibrillation will have no symptoms. But most will have palpitations, a fluttering in their chest, light-headedness, or dizziness. Some people will experience chest pain or symptoms consistent with heart failure – swelling of the legs or shortness of breath.
The problem with atrial fibrillation is that it can result in heart failure or strokes. People that have atrial fibrillation need to be on some type of medication to control their heart rate and a blood thinner to prevent them from having a stroke. Even with the medication and the blood thinner, people will still experience complications from the rhythm. And, ideally, it’s best to eliminate the irregular rhythm.
This is done initially by one of my colleagues, a cardiologist referred to as an Electrophysiologist. They can evaluate the arrhythmia and treat it. They put a catheter through a vein to the inside of the heart. They can see where the irregular rhythm originates and either freeze or burn that area of the heart muscle tissue.
In some percentage of patients that procedure is unsuccessful. When that happens, patients can be referred for surgery.
Atrial fibrillation can lead to heart failure. It can also lead to premature death.
It’s a “nuisance” arrhythmia that is, in fact, a serious arrhythmia. Also, a significant number of the people who have atrial fibrillation will have adverse reactions to either the medications that are used to control it or the blood thinners. Specifically, with the blood thinners if there’s any incidence of bleeding. Ideally, if the arrhythmia can be eliminated so can the need for the strong anti-arrhythmic drugs and the blood thinners.
Atrial fibrillation is a serious arrhythmia that affects a significant portion of our population. I would suggest that if somebody has atrial fibrillation or symptoms consistent with what they believe may be atrial fibrillation that they be evaluated by their primary care physician or a cardiologist and receive appropriate therapy.
Often times, the arrhythmia will respond to medical therapy alone. But if it does not, there are other options available through the cardiologist and surgically.
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