September marks National Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Awareness Month, and Hamilton Health Care System is focused on helping the public become more familiar with the symptoms, warning signs and treatment options.
AFib is an irregular heartbeat or a condition in which the heart muscles fail to contract in a strong, rhythmic way. When a heart is in AFib, it may not be pumping enough oxygen-rich blood out to the body.
A quivering or fluttering heartbeat is the most common symptom. Other symptoms include: general fatigue, rapid and irregular heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath and anxiety, weakness, faintness or confusion, fatigue when exercising, sweating and chest pain or pressure.
“A pounding or racing heartbeat that happens for no apparent reason should not be ignored,” said T. Sean Dunn II, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist and cardiologist for Hamilton Physician Group – Cardiology, especially when other symptoms are also present, like shortness of breath with light physical activity or lightheadedness, dizziness or unusual fatigue.”
AFib is associated with a five-times-greater risk for stroke. When the heart is in AFib, the blood can become static and can be left pooling inside the heart. When blood pools, a clot can form. When a clot is pumped out of the heart, it can get lodged in the arteries which may cause a stroke. Blocked arteries prevent the tissue on the other side from getting oxygen-rich blood, and without oxygen, the tissue dies.
Some people with AFib do not experience any symptoms. These people may be diagnosed at a regular check-up, or their AFib may be discovered when a healthcare provider listens to their heart for some other reason. Those who are symptomatic have options for therapy including antiarrhythmic drugs and catheter ablation.
“Everyone should receive regular medical check-ups to help keep risks low and live a healthier life,” said Dunn.
Reducing the Risk of AFib:
• Get regular physical activity
• Eat a heart-healthy diet, low in salt, saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol
• Manage high blood pressure
• Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine
• Don’t smoke
• Control cholesterol
• Maintain a healthy weight