Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a common heart rhythm disorder that affects millions of Americans. It is characterized by an irregular and rapid heartbeat that can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and lightheadedness. If left untreated, AFib can lead to serious complications, including stroke and heart failure.
Treatment for AFib typically focuses on controlling the heart rate, restoring normal heart rhythm, and using blood thinners, referred to as anti-coagulation, to prevent stroke. The following are some of the most common treatments for AFib:
-Medications: There are two types of medications; one that controls the heart rate from going too fast such as beta blockers (e.g. metoprolol) and the other is anti-arrhythmic medication that restores the normal heart rhythm. In addition to those medications, anti-coagulation is prescribed to reduce the risk of stroke. The CHA₂DS₂-VASc Score helps determine the yearly risk of stroke. For example, a 72 year old woman with high blood pressure and diabetes has an approximately 4.8% stroke risk per year. It is important to understand that anti-coagulation increases the risk of bleeding in places such as the gastrointestinal tract.
-Cardioversion: This procedure uses electrical shocks to restore normal heart rhythm. Cardioversion is typically performed in the hospital or an outpatient setting. As a rule of thumb, everyone with Afib should be cardioverted at least once and anti-coagulation is required leading up to and after the procedure.
-Catheter Ablation: This minimally invasive procedure uses radiofrequency energy to destroy small areas of the heart that are responsible for the abnormal electrical signals causing AFib. Catheter ablation is typically performed as an outpatient procedure and can be a long-term solution for patients with recurrent AFib.
-Lifestyle Changes: Lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of AFib and its complications. This includes maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical activity, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and managing stress levels.
-Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat AFib. For example, a surgical procedure known as the maze procedure can be performed to create a series of surgical incisions in the heart that help to restore normal heart rhythm.
Medical experts in Charlottesville, VA, like Dr. John Anthony Pacelli Vitarello, say Afib is a common and treatable disorder. The best approach depends on a number of factors, including the severity of symptoms, the underlying cause of AFib, and the patient’s other medical problems.