The human heart will beat between two to three billion times throughout a lifespan, pumping blood at a steady pace through a series of electrical signals. Those electrical signals create the heartbeat, and should they malfunction, even slightly, serious health implications can occur such as tiredness, shortness of breath, or even stroke. September is National Atrial Fibrillation Month and, Banner Health is looking to spread awareness of the signs, symptoms, and treatments associated with this most common rhythm disorder of the heart.
According to the Silver Book, at the age of 80+, nearly one in 10 individuals will develop AFib. Identifying the causes and symptoms is important in early detection. While anyone can be affected by this condition, the at-risk communities include those with diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, obesity, smokers, and even those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol regularly. Symptoms range in severity but include increased heart rate (not as a direct result of activity), shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, and stroke. The New England Journal of Medicine notes that currently, 1 in 6 strokes are attributed to AFib, further proving the need for education about the condition.
Dr. Shane Rowan and Dr. David Bicknell are both electrophysiologists at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley where they specialize in abnormalities of the heart’s rhythm. They said that diagnosing the condition usually happens in one of three ways.
“One-third of patients can physically feel their irregular heartbeat,” said Dr. Rowan. “They come in to see us and are quickly diagnosed. Another third have no idea they have AFib and are diagnosed through other diagnostic work or even through the smart watches or personal fitness devices they wear. And the last third doesn’t notice their heartbeat but suffers from irregular shortness of breath.”
Treatments include medications, pacemakers, which are usually reserved for older patients, and ablative therapy, the most popular of the three, which is an outpatient procedure boasting a 99% rate in reduction in symptoms according to EP Lab Digest and a 75% rate in AFib elimination according to the New England Journal of Medicine.