Marching to the Beat of AFib
We’ve all heard of hearts skipping beats or beating differently, but did you know that cardiac arrhythmias can be a serious problem with long lasting complications? An arrhythmia is an abnormal pattern to a person’s heart rate, and it can be a sign of a greater underlying problem with the heart’s electrical activity. Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. As we enter AFib Awareness Month, it's important that we familiarize ourselves with this all-too-common arrhythmia.
Atrial fibrillation is an arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rate pattern, that is caused by uncoordinated electrical activation. While the heart is beating to an unsynchronized pattern, it also needs to manage the rate at which it beats. A person with AFib whose heart is beating at a slow or normal heart rate may have little to no symptoms. However, a person with AFib whose heart at a very fast rate would have severe symptoms and would need to be rushed to the hospital. A heart that is both in AFib and beating very fast is in AFib with Rapid Ventricular Response (RVR), and this is a medical emergency.
A person with AFib should make sure to visit their cardiologist for further evaluation. Just because their heart isn’t beating extremely fast, doesn’t mean they don’t need to worry about their health. Atrial Fibrillation, no matter how fast or slow, puts a person at risk for stroke and can worsen preexisting heart issues.
During AFib, blood can pool in the heart for longer than it should, and a clot may form inside. If a blood clot from the heart were to ever break off, it could cause a stroke. It is because of this blood clotting risk that patients with AFib have a fivefold increased risk of stroke compared to the rest of the population. For this reason, all patients with AFib need to visit their cardiologist for treatment to control their heart rate and to prevent blood clot formation.
It’s important to note that the prevalence of atrial fibrillation increases with age. Meaning, the older you are, the more likely you are to develop AFib. Patients with underlying cardiovascular disease such as hypertensive heart disease or coronary artery disease are also more likely to develop AFib. With so many patients developing AFib later in life, the cost of medical care associated with AFib is quite high.
So, how might someone know if they have developed Atrial Fibrillation? Patients with AFib may have associated symptoms such as: palpitations, fatigue, weakness, fast heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, or reduced exercise capacity. More severe symptoms might include chest pain, difficulty breathing at rest, or even fainting. If you have concerns that you may have atrial fibrillation, be sure to visit your cardiologist so that they may evaluate you.
Throughout Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, be sure to check in with yourself and your loved ones for possible AFib symptoms. The more we know about this prevalent and treatable illness, the better prepared we can all be. From all of us here at Lone Star Family Health Center, please take care of yourselves and each other!
Dr. Cruz is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.