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Medical Monday: What is Atrial Fibrillation and how is it treated?

Posted: 7:08 PM, Feb 06, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-07 01:08:37Z
Dr. Mehta is a cardiac electrophysiologist with Aurora BayCare. He joined us on Wisconsin Tonight. 
 
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is a rhythm abnormality in which the upper chambers of the heart contract in an irregular and chaotic manner. Essentially, they quiver. Usually, the pulse becomes markedly irregular with this rhythm. When a heart is in AFib, it isn’t effectively pumping enough oxygen-rich blood through the body.
 
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, can place certain people at higher risk for stroke and heart failure. It also can damage the heart. It is estimated to be responsible for more than 80,000 deaths annually.
 
At least 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. It is the most common heart rhythm disorder.
 
What are symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
 
* A racing, fluttering, thumping or irregular-feeling heartbeat
* Fatigue, dizziness or lightheadedness
* Shortness of breath or fainting
* Anxiety
* Weakness
* Confusion
* Sweating
* Chest pain or pressure
 
Even though a physician can usually recognize an irregular pulse by listening to your heart, the definitive way to diagnose atrial fibrillation is by an electrocardiogram, or EKG, which can be performed in your doctor’s office. An EKG is a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart.
 
There is no cure for atrial fibrillation, but it can be effectively managed. Your doctor can treat this condition with medications and an ablation procedure. In this procedure, the physician goes through veins in the groin to access your heart and cauterizes the abnormal circuits which cause atrial fibrillation.
 
Risk factors include but are not limited to:
 
* Being over the age of 60
* Diabetes
* High blood pressure
* Thyroid disease
* Chronic lung disease
* Sleep apnea
* Excessive alcohol or stimulant use
 
If you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, getting an expert consultation from a cardiac electrophysiologist -- a physician who specializes in rhythm abnormalities of the heart -- can be useful.
 
For information, call Aurora BayCare Cardiology at 800-236-6309.