An irregular heartbeat can lead to serious health problems. Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, chief medical officer of Pfizer, and ER physician Dr. Travis Stork have a heart-to-heart discussion about atrial fibrillation.
“It’s estimated that nearly 3 million Americans experience atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Lewis-Hall explains. “It is the most common form of atypical or abnormal heart rhythms.”
Also known as AF or AFib, atrial fibrillation is a cardiovascular disorder in which the atria in the heart quiver instead of pump, making the heart work harder to circulate blood through the lower chambers and throughout the body. The fluttering arrhythmia caused by AFib is typically diagnosed with a stethoscope during a routine health screening. Over time, people with AFib are five times more likely to suffer a stroke or develop cardiovascular disease from the added strain.
- Alcohol consumption
- Previous heart attack or heart surgery
- Certain medications
- Coronory artery disease
- Heart valve disease
Dr. Lewis-Hall explains that smoking and high levels of caffeine both elevate heart rates and make atrial fibrillation worse.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
“Some people have no symptoms at all, and that’s why so many people with atrial fibrillation go undiagnosed,” Dr. Lewis-Hall adds.
Treatments for AFib include blood thinners to prevent clots and other prescription medications to regulate heart rate. Electrical cardioversion, a form of shockwave therapy, can help reset the heart’s rhythm, and in certain circumstances, a surgically implanted pacemaker may be required. Radiofrequency catheter ablation may also be used to obliterate abnormal tissue interfering with the flow of electrical signals and/or correct structural damage within the heart.
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