The adult human heart beats about 103,680 times a day, so one that occasionally gets out-of-sync isn’t a big deal. But when you or your loved one feels a fish flopping, thunder rumbling, or drums pounding in your chest, it could be atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as AF or A-Fib —the number one sustained rapid heartbeat problem in the U.S.—and time to take action.
“If you feel your heart consistently skip a beat over time, or experience chest pains, palpitations, dizziness, or fainting, you may have an abnormal heart rhythm linked to atrial fibrillation and should seek medical help,” advises Dr. Bruce L. Wilkoff, President of the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS).
To get the most out of your doctor’s visit, consider the following questions about your abnormal rhythm episodes provided by Dr. Wilkoff and the HRS awareness campaign “A-Fib Feels Like“:
- What exactly does it feel like? (Use descriptive words.)
- How often does it happen? (Every day? Week? Month?)
- What time of day does it occur?
- How long does it last?
- Have you noticed anything that seems to trigger it?
- Were you able to make it stop? Or, did it stop on its own?
- Do you have a family history of heart-related health issues?
“Keeping a journal or log with specific details about your abnormal heart rhythm episodes puts you a step ahead when going to visit your doctor,” adds Dr. Wilkoff. “It’s not your responsibility to diagnose your symptoms, but it is important that you share details about your symptoms with your doctor so that both patient and doctor can explore the situation together.”
Causes of AF
Reversible triggers: Overactive thyroid, heart attack, recent cardiac surgery, smoking, and sleep apnea. Additionally, a weekend of excess alcohol consumption can set off transient AF, or “holiday heart.”
Other risk factors: Diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and being over 60.
One in four cases occurs with no known cause.
Why AF is Serious
Left untreated, AF carries an increased long-term risk of stroke and heart failure, especially in women.
Treatments for AF
Prescription medicines such as beta blockers to control the heart rate.
Anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin) or dabigatran (Pradaxa) to stave off stroke.
Success rates of ablation, or burning specific areas of the heart responsible for the arrhythmia, depend on the type of AF, the patient’s overall health, and the physician’s expertise.