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What Do You Know About AFib?

What is AFib?

AFib is short for atrial fibrillation, a condition that can cause an irregular and very rapid heart beat. While AFib itself may not be life threatening, it can lead to other conditions. It can cause blood clots in the heart, stroke, contribute to heart failure and other forms of heart disease.

How do you know you have it or are in it?

During an episode of AFib, the upper and lower chambers of the heart beat out of synch with each other. Not everyone can feel the effects of AFib. Others experience a feeling of rapid or pounding heart beat, shortness of breath and maybe weakness.

Episodes can be intermittent or they can be persistent. Some people can be completely debilitated while in an episode and others can't even feel it. I know someone who is frequently in AFib and I'm aware of it before they are, simply by the way their breathing changes.

There are some diagnostic tests that can determine whether or not you have AFib:

  • EKG - quick test that measure heart electrical activity
  • Blood test - this can rule out thyroid abnormality and check for substances in the blood that can cause AFib
  • Holter monitor - a portable EKG worn for 24 hours tracking heart behavior during regular activity
  • Even recorder - typically worn for 30 days and records periodically, either when the wearer pushes a button at the onset of irregular heart rhythm or when it automatically detects the irregularity
  • Echocardiogram - uses sound waves to assess the heart's structure, size and activity
  • Stress test - usually done on a treadmill or stationary bike to assess the heart's activity while exercising
  • Chest x-ray - used to look at heart and lungs

So what if you have it?

If you do experience AFib, the main goal is to determine the cause and to reset the heart's rhythm, control the heart rate and prevent blood clots. Treatment may include some are all of the following:

  • medication - can include blood thinners, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, anti-arrhythmics and digoxin
  • reset therapy - cardioversion can be done electrically, sending shockwaves into the heart to reset the rhythm or with medication
  • surgery or catheterization -  cardiac ablation uses heat or cold to create scar tissue in the heart to block abnormal signaling and to normalize rhythm

They have perfected so many of the therapies used in managing such conditions as AFib. I have provided a very high level and simplistic view of what is available. It's always important to confer with your healthcare practitioner if you suspect there is something going on with your heart that is abnormal. You know your body better than anyone, so if you suspect something is wrong, seek help. Do not allow anyone to dismiss you without first examining you. IF that happens, find another practitioner. You need to be heard.

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