Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of irregular heartbeat, affecting an estimated three million Americans. One out of every six ischemic strokes is believed to be related to AFib. St. Joseph's Heart & Vascular Institute is leading the way in implementing more effective treatment options for AFib and stroke prevention.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?
Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition in which the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly and too fast because they receive extra, "abnormal" electrical signals. This causes the atria to quiver (fibrillate), affecting the heart's ability to pump blood to the body. As a result, your brain and other organs may not be getting the full blood supply they need.
AFib is a dangerous medical condition that becomes more difficult to treat over time. AFib can lead to irreversible heart damage. It can also lead to the formation of blood clots inside the heart, which may lead to a stroke.
Causes & Risk Factors
It is unlikely your doctor can pinpoint just one cause of your AFib, but there are certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing AFib. These include:
- A previous heart attack, congestive heart failure, leaky valves, artery disease or inflammation near the heart
- High blood pressure or diabetes
- Thyroid, lung or nerve conditions
- High levels of caffeine or alcohol use
Some patients have no sensation at all that their heart is fibrillating. Others experience symptoms that include:
- An uncomfortable sensation in the chest
- Dizziness, lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of stamina and fatigue
Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation
AFib can be detected through an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) that records electrical signals generated by the heart. A Holter monitor may also be worn for one or more days to detect AFib.
Treatment For Atrial Fibrillation At St. Joseph's Heart & Vascular Institute
The Atrial Fibrillation Clinic at St. Joseph's Heart & Vascular Institute treats patients with persistent or permanent AFib who are difficult to treat or continue to be symptomatic. The clinic provides a multidisciplinary evaluation by electrophysiologists, cardiologists and surgeons who work together with the patient to determine the best therapy to enhance their quality of life. An RN Program Coordinator assists patients with assessments, procedure planning, monitoring, and long-term follow up. The team offers advanced therapies such as Watchman and Epicardial/Endocardial Ablations.
AFib therapy is aimed at reducing the patient's risk of stroke, relieving symptoms and trying to prevent further weakening of the heart. Unfortunately, there is no single treatment strategy that has been shown to be effective for all patients with AFib. There are several therapies that may be used alone or in combination. The choice of treatment depends upon:
- The severity of your symptoms
- The likelihood that you will respond to a particular treatment
- Consideration of the risks versus benefits of treatment
Our heart experts specialize in many different types of ablation techniques to treat atrial fibrillation, including:
- Minimally invasive catheter ablation
- Surgical atrial fibrillation ablation
- Robot-assisted catheter ablation
Drug therapies include blood thinners and medications used to control your heart rate during AFib and restore its normal rhythm. They include:
- Anticoagulants (blood thinners) that prevent the blood clots than can lead to stroke. Common types of blood thinners include Coumadin and Pradaxa.
- Rate Control Drugs that bring your heart back into a normal and consistent rhythm. Some people have problems tolerating their side effects or cannot use them because they may interact with other drugs they are taking.
Your doctor will help you decide which drug is right for you.