Avoid Complications of Afib including Stroke
Thanks in part to recent television commercials, more people have at least heard the words “atrial fibrillation” or “Afib” more often than they used to. What is this rhythm and why are so many people interested in this?
Atrial fibrillation is an incredibly common heart arrhythmia. Somewhere between 3 and 6 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation. Of our citizens over 65 years old, 10% have Afib. In these people with atrial fibrillation, the top chambers of the heart (the atrium), has an “electrical storm” causing them to beat very fast, quiver, or “fibrillate.” This quivering of the atrium leads to stagnant blood within the top chambers instead of pumping through them. This can cause a clot. This clot can break loose and get pumped out of the heart and into the brain causing a stroke.
To keep people from having a stroke from atrial fibrillation, people are usually put on blood thinning medications. This is not because there blood is “too thick”, but rather we want their blood to be thinner than normal so that the heart clot does not form.
People with Afib tend to have very fast and irregular heart rates. This can be uncomfortable. It can lead to shortness of breath and even to a weakening of the heart itself. In order to protect the patient from this, some blood pressure medications are given that also slow the heart some.
If a person with atrial fibrillation is feeling poorly, getting them back to normal may be helpful. This is done by a small shock to the heart causing the rhythm to reset back to normal. This is called a cardioversion. People tolerate this procedure very well and feel better afterwards.
Thankfully, not everyone has this heart rhythm problem, but some people are more likely to develop Afib than others. The risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation are…
- Age over 65
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Weakened heart function
- Heavy alcohol use
- Sleep apnea
If you have one or more of these risk factors and have noticed your heart “flopping like a fish” or if you have periods of extreme weakness and notice an irregular heart rate, contact your doctor for an EKG. Doing this may identify a problem to prevent a stroke. Remember ….
No one wants a stroke from atrial fibrillation