Healthy Living: Atrial fibrillation
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Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common arrhythmia cardiologists deal with. It occurs when the upper chambers of your heart aren't working well, which then sets off a host of symptoms.
"Most people will feel a sudden onset of shortness of breath,” cardiologist Andrij Baran said. “They feel their heart racing in a very irregular manner. Some people get light headed and dizzy and even black out when they switch from normal rhythm to a-fibrillation.”
The causes of AFib include high blood pressure and a heart valve that is diseased, leaky or blocked. Patients who are in AFib need to have the heart's rhythm reset with what's called a cardioversion. In order to do that, patients are placed on blood thinners, admitted to the hospital and given anesthesia.
"While they are out, we deliver an electric shock to the heart like you see in the movies, but with slightly different paddles and that restores the heart to normal rhythm 90 percent of the time,” Baran said.
Some patients only have one AFib episode their entire life, but other patients like Michael Hall aren't as lucky. He's had so many that he needed a procedure called an ablation.
"An ablation is a procedure where you slide a catheter – a long plastic tube – to the heart through a vein in the leg and you find the source of the fibrillation,” Baran said. “Once you find it, you basically cook it, and once you burn the source, the natural pacemaker of the heart can run the show without interference from the cells that try to take over.”
While AFib is not a heart attack or a stroke, it can cause both. Michael Hall had a pacemaker put in seven months ago and hasn't had a single episode since.