Frequently Asked Questions About AFib
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm problem that takes place in the top chamber of the heart. The heart has four chambers – top chambers are the atria and the bottom chambers are the ventricles. Under normal conditions, the top chamber contracts in a very organized fashion, followed by the lower chambers. This is not what happens when you have AFib. When you have AFib, the top chambers begin quivering in a very fast, disorganized manner.
What can AFib do?
AFib can cause many symptoms including increasing risk of stroke and congestive heart failure, so if you have atrial fibrillation you should seek medical attention, specifically from a heart rhythm specialist known as an electrophysiologist.
Why do you have Atrial Fibrillation?
Most patients have risk factors that will lead them to have atrial fibrillation. In the United States obesity and excess weight is the leading risk factor. Obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure and age also increase risk. The older you are the higher your risk for AFib.
Some of these risk factors are modifiable meaning they can be mitigated. You can develop a healthier lifestyle by quitting smoking, decreasing alcohol intake, losing weight and exercising more. These are proven to decrease the incidence of atrial fibrillation. Lifestyle modification is the first course of action regardless of the long-term treatment plan.
Once you have addressed these risk factors, the most important next step is stroke prevention. There is a 5 times greater risk of developing stroke in patients with AFib – this can be even higher in some patients with multiple risk factors. There are several treatment options to reduce the risk of stroke.
What about symptomatic AFib?
If you have symptomatic AFib, there are several treatment options today. We have medications that can be used to decrease the number of episodes of atrial fibrillation. We also have procedures such as catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation.
What are the symptoms of AFib?
If you have been diagnosed with AFib or think you may have AFib, you might have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Fast heartbeat
- Fluttering in chest
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic fatigue
Is catheter ablation safe and where should I go for treatment?
Atrial fibrillation ablation also known as catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation has been shown, in many clinical trials and research studies, to be superior to drug therapy for treatment of AFib. Atrial fibrillation ablation is typically performed in specialized centers and hospitals and should be performed in hospitals that have a lot of experience in the procedure.
Most patients will spend one night in the hospital and within a week are back to normal activity.
How long does the procedure take?
Catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation will typically take between two and three hours to be performed. The complication rates in the United States at highly specialized centers are very low. The success rates in facilities with good experience in atrial fibrillation ablation are as 75 to 90%. This is been confirmed in many registries, databases and clinical trials.
Will I have to take medications for the rest of my life after the procedure?
Once atrial fibrillation ablation is performed, you can expect an improvement quality of life and also to be able to stop some of the antiarrhythmic drugs that you may have used in the past. Being off drugs that may cause fatigue, as well as being free of atrial fibrillation, will improve your quality of life. If you, however, have a high risk of stroke, we may continue treatment with anticoagulants to decrease the risk of stroke.
Dr Jose Osorio
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