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Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

If your heart isn't beating properly, it's important to find out why. An irregular heartbeat, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib), can put you at risk of developing numerous health problems. At Reid Health Heart & Vascular Center, we're dedicated to helping people with this condition throughout East Central Indiana and West Central Ohio manage their symptoms and reduce further damage.

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart does not beat regularly (arrhythmia). Nearly 3 million Americans have AFib, a serious, potentially fatal condition that can cause blood clots, heart failure, and stroke.

A healthy heart beats at a steady, regular pace, although sometimes it beats faster or slower, which is normal. For example, exercise can make the heart beat faster, while sleep can cause it to slow down. AFib, on the other hand, causes the upper heart chambers of the heart, called atria, to quiver instead of beating at a normal pace.

People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke and three times more likely to develop heart failure. Many patients with AFib also have coronary artery disease , as both conditions share risk factors and may be caused by inflammation.

AFib symptoms

AFib may happen in brief episodes or become a permanent condition. People who have AFib may experience several different symptoms, including:

  • Abnormal heartbeat, which can feel like a rapid heartbeat, a fluttering heart, or a pounding heart
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual fatigue

Treatments available for AFib and heart rhythm disorder

People who experience AFib symptoms, or are diagnosed with AFib without symptoms, should begin treatment right away to decrease the risk of heart failure and stroke.

Treatments for AFib often involve working to repair the heart's electrical system. When the heart's electrical activity is interrupted, the heart may not beat normally. When this happens, changes in heart rate or rhythm occur.

Several different treatment approaches are available. Lifestyle changes and medication may help normalize heart rhythm and prevent blood clotting. Sometimes surgical procedures are needed to treat AFib.

WATCHMAN: Advanced care for AFib

Reid's heart and vascular specialists offer the WATCHMAN device, which helps reduce stroke risk in people with AFib.

For most people with AFib, stroke-causing blood clots form in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA). When the heart doesn't beat correctly, blood can pool in the LAA, increasing the chances that a clot can form. That clot can travel out of the heart to the brain and cause a stroke.

The WATCHMAN device is a small implant placed in the heart to seal off the LAA. Surgeons implant the device using a minimally invasive approach, not open-heart surgery, that takes an hour or less to perform.

The device can be an effective alternative for AFib patients who can't take blood thinning medications, which can have side effects and complications.

Additional treatments for AFib

Catheter/cardiac ablation — In a healthy heart, electricity travels in a regular, measured pattern. A short circuit can disrupt this pattern and obstruct the electrical energy. Treating atrial fibrillation with an ablation corrects the problem. During an ablation, the surgeon inserts catheters into the heart. The catheters contain electrodes that record information about the heart's electrical signals. A separate machine then delivers energy through the catheters to areas that are causing the abnormal heart rhythm.

Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is a device that monitors your heart rate and rhythm. If the device detects a very fast, abnormal heart rhythm, it can deliver energy to your heart muscle to create a normal, more desirable rhythm. The ICD consists of two parts: the leads and the generator. The leads monitor the heart rate and rhythm, deliver energy, and pace the heart if necessary. Inside the generator is the battery and a tiny computer. The battery holds energy until it is needed. The tiny computer holds information about your heart that it receives through the leads to determine when the heart needs energy.

Pacemaker — A pacemaker is a device that helps maintain a normal heart rate by transferring electrical impulses through leads to your heart muscle.

Nonsurgical treatments for AFib

In addition to surgery, AFib can be treated with lifestyle changes and certain medications.

Lifestyle changes that can improve symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:

  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding alcohol and stimulants that can increase or interfere with heart rate and rhythm
  • Becoming physically active and exercising regularly
  • Managing stress
  • Reducing salt and sodium intake to improve heart health and function
  • Quitting smoking
  • Medications that can help control AFib symptoms include:
  • Beta-blockers, which help control and slow heart rate
  • Blood thinners, used to prevent blood clots and reduce stroke risk
  • Calcium channel blockers to control heart rate
  • Digitalis or digoxin to control blood flow rate throughout the body
  • Heart rhythm medicines

Reid Health can help restore your heart's healthy function and rhythm.

If you experience symptoms of AFib or a heart rhythm disorder, it's important to get evaluated and diagnosed by a Reid heart specialist as soon as possible. Effective treatments can significantly reduce symptoms and complications associated with AFib and heart rhythm disorders, including strokes and heart failure.

The Reid Health Heart & Vascular Center team can help you manage your AFib so you can live a healthier life. Call (765) 962-1337 to make an appointment.