What You Need to Know About Atrial Fibrillation
It is estimated that 2.7 million Americans are afflicted by atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition in which the top and bottom portion of the heart are out of sync. The result may be a rapid or irregular heartbeat, a “fluttering” sensation in the chest, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, and general fatigue.
Physicians like Dr. Abhimanyu Beri, clinical cardiac electrophysiologist at the Riverside Heart and Vascular Institute, address these issues on a daily basis.
“The heart is a complex organ; imagine it like a complex pump. It needs a plumber, an electrician, and multiple different systems that make the heart work. An electrophysiologist is like an electrician. I work on the rhythm of the heart to make sure it keeps beating in sync. My training enables me to help diagnose and treat conditions that may be arising as a result of problems in the electrical system of a patient’s heart,” he notes.
What Causes AFib?
Causes behind AFib are multifold. The most common are genetics, diabetes, untreated sleep apnea, being overweight/obese, alcohol consumption in large quantities, and history of congestive heart failure. “The list is long, but these are the most common conditions that can precipitate or cause atrial fibrillation,” explains Dr. Beri.
Atrial fibrillation does become more frequent as individuals age. Research shows that the percentage of those above age 80 who have atrial fibrillation is sizeable.
Identifying & Diagnosing AFib
Unfortunately, some patients have no idea they are in a state of AFib. The body continues to perform. Much like other chronic medical conditions, AFib can be a “silent killer.” In fact, the first symptom AFib often presents is stroke. Over time, untreated atrial fibrillation can lead to the heart valves becoming leaky and result in congestive heart failure.
When symptoms do bring a patient to the emergency room or a physician’s office, the condition is typically diagnosed via an electrocardiogram (EKG). “Sometimes, the symptoms are sporadic—at which time a heart monitor may be required. This could be for 24 or 48 hours, or up to 30 days. Rarely, we may have to implant a chip in someone’s chest to pick up these episodes of palpitations or atrial fibrillation,” notes Dr. Beri.
A primary concern with atrial fibrillation is to recognize the risk of stroke and how that risk can be lowered. One option is to start the patient on blood thinners.
“Stroke is very devastating and can be a life-changing condition. The reason why people with atrial fibrillation suffer strokes is because blood flows very slowly when the heart is not pumping normally. We absolutely do not want our patients having strokes,” cautions Dr. Beri.
Treatments are also available to slow down one’s heart rate. “We have state-of-the-art technology here at Riverside, where we can actually treat the condition with either advanced medications or with catheter ablation. We can insert a catheter inside a person’s body and find the areas that are causing atrial fibrillation,” he adds.
Ultimately, treatment needs to be individualized to each patient. “Not everyone is the same. We cannot ignore the symptoms of one versus the other. We encourage patients to meet with their doctor. And, we are always available for consultation to help guide the most appropriate care for our patients,” assures Dr. Beri.
To learn more about the Riverside Heart and Vascular Institute, visit riversidehealthcare.org or call 844-404-HRTS. And, to listen to an in-depth interview with Dr. Beri, follow this link: Atrial Fibrillation.