Atrial Fibrillation (afib) impacts the daily lives of many Americans, but even though it sounds (and can be) scary, there are plenty of ways to manage the condition and continue living a happy, healthy life with minor modifications. Not sure what to do to get your A-Fib under control and get back to your life? Here are some things to consider.
What Is A-Fib?
We’ve covered this more in-depth in the past, but for a brief recap, A-Fib is an unorganized, chaotic heart rhythm that comes from the left atrium. It’s often described as an irregular rhythm where the heart beats without a set pattern. As frightening as it sounds, it also feels fairly frightening when you realize it’s happening. Unfortunately, the exact cause of the condition is unknown, but over the years, great treatment options have become available to manage it safely. Over time, the episodes start increasing in length and severity. Patients start having more and more episodes to the point that they are now in A-Fib all the time. That’s when it progresses and is called persistent atrial fibrillation. Inside the heart, that usually means that it has spread beyond the pulmonary veins. The success of treatment is lower the longer a patient has A-fib and the more it progresses.
A-Fib is one of those conditions where the symptoms can often vary greatly. Some things to keep an eye out for include fatigue and shortness of breath with common everyday activities, palpitations (“like a fish flopping in my chest”), lightheadedness, passing out, chest pain, chest discomfort, headaches, not thinking as clearly, and burning in the chest are some of the most commonly noted symptoms. However, it’s worth noting that some patients with A-Fib may experience no symptoms at all.
It all sounds bleak, but there are treatments that can help manage symptoms and, if an underlying cause can be identified, sometimes the condition can even be reversed. If your symptoms are mild and episodes happen infrequently, the first step for treatment is rate control. This is often managed with simple high blood pressure medication to keep the heart from beating too fast or too slow. As the condition progresses, rhythm control becomes a priority. This is generally managed with anti-arrhythmic medication, specifically designed for patients with A-Fib. The success of this type of treatment generally depends on the strength of the drug, and unfortunately, the stronger the drug, the more side effects you may have to deal with.
If these treatments fail or the condition progresses beyond medication’s capability to deal with it, there are other options, including surgical procedures that can help keep symptoms at bay. Alongside the various treatment options, most patients with A-Fib will also take a blood thinner.
With the proper treatment combination and regular visits with your cardiologist, A-Fib is manageable, and you can live life without constantly worrying about the irregular rhythm associated with the disease. It’s important to see a specialist if you have the symptoms mentioned above, to determine whether or not A-Fib is the answer. If it is, starting a treatment plan early can help ensure you have the opportunity to make the most of your life despite the condition. If you think you may have A-Fib, give us a call. South Denver Cardiology is a leader in A-Fib treatment and we may be able to help.