Is Atrial Fibrillation Really That Bad?
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart arrhythmia (also known as an irregular heart rhythm) and it affects upwards of 5 million Americans. Not all Afib episodes are obvious and severe. In fact, many arrhythmias are barely noticeable or happen only on occasion. As a result, some patients tend to dismiss them without realizing the true underlying danger.
Indeed, the biggest danger does not lie in the actual irregular heart rhythm. Treating Afib itself is primarily performed to improve lifestyle and avoid longer-term complications. After all, Afib can cause serious and sometimes debilitating symptoms, including extreme discomfort, inconsistent blood supply, fatigue and longer-term heart failure.
However, the primary and immediate danger of atrial fibrillation is stroke.
As electrophysiologists or heart rhythm specialists, our first priority is to mitigate the most dangerous potential follow-on effects of atrial fibrillation. Patients who suffer from Afib, in fact, have a five times higher risk of stroke then those who do not experience the arrythmia. This is due to a small outpouching in the heart known as the Left Atrial Appendage or LAA. Most people will never hear the term, but Afib patients know it well. As Afib continues, there is a risk that blood stagnates and pools in the LAA. In some, a clot can come loose and cause a stroke.
How Do We Reduce the Risk of Stroke in A fib Patients?
Many patients suffering from Afib are overweight or obese. Therefore, the first course of action is to modify lifestyle. Losing weight through diet and exercise and, potentially, eliminating the arrythmia is the most conservative and preferable risk reduction technique. However, most patients are not able to drop the weight and may need medication to reduce the risk of clot formation. These medicines are known as anticoagulants. Anticoagulants have disadvantages as well, however. For some, anticoagulants are not effective at all, or become less effective over time. For others, the side effects may be more severe than the Afib symptoms themselves.
What Minimally Invasive Interventions are Available?
Fortunately, we have minimally invasive procedures to help patients not only manage their arrythmia and associated risk, but even eliminate the problem in a majority of cases.
The Watchman Device
Watchman is an occlusion device used to seal the LAA shut, meaning that any clots physically cannot get out. This reduces the risk of stroke significantly. It is delivered via catheter and the risks are very low as a result. Learn more about Watchman.
Cardiac Catheter Ablation
Catheter ablation uses targeted heat to eliminate heart cells causing the arrhythmia. Using 3-D mapping of the heart, your electrophysiologist can precisely and permanently improve the arrythmia. Most patients get complete resolution of symptoms. Learn more about cardiac catheter ablation
If you are experiencing a cardiac arrythmia, getting it checked out sooner rather than later is of utmost importance. It truly can be the difference between life and death. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.