Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, can be triggered by high stress levels, smoking and drinking, sleep apnea and strenuous exercises. Fatigue, shortness of breath, and an irregular heart rhythm are all symptoms of AFib, but they often go unnoticed or undiagnosed. Because of this, there are a lot of questions and misconceptions around AFib. It’s important to know all the facts, or this potentially dangerous heart rhythm disorder can go mistreated. The more you know, the better care you can take of your heart.
Myth: A fluttering heart is no big deal.
It might not seem like much, but a fluttering heart caused by an AFib attack can cause serious problems. Irregular heartbeats can cause blood to pool and clot, leading to stroke. Or, fluid can build up in your lungs, making you short of breath. That fluttering heartbeat may also mean that not enough blood is reaching your heart. If you’ve experienced any symptoms of AFib, such as a fluttering heart sensation, along with fatigue and shortness of breath, it’s crucial to call your doctor for treatment.
Myth: Cardioversion can put an end to AFib once and for all.
Cardioversion is when the heart is either treated by oral medicine or shocked back into a normal rhythm. It can be very useful in treating AFib, but it doesn’t always bring the heart back to normal rhythm, or ensure that a normal rhythm can be maintained. Although similar in mechanism to a pacemaker, cardioversion is usually done while the patient is sedated in a secure environment and often, patients wake up later without memory of the procedure. But cardioversion doesn’t always work the first time or the next few times. Medication may be needed to manage AFib and also to prevent stroke.
Myth: I’m still having AFib episodes, my medication must not be working.
Unfortunately, medication isn’t a cure-all for AFib. Beta-blockers such as propranolol or atenolol, or calcium-channel blockers such as verapamil won’t be able to fully rid you of AFib. Effective treatment means controlling the symptoms by lowering the duration and frequencies of each episode. That being said, the body will, over time, build up a natural resistance against AFib medication. When that happens, cardiac ablation is recommended.
Myth: If it doesn’t work the first time, catheter ablation won’t help you.
Radiofrequency (RF) or cyroenergy are the methods employed in catheter ablation. The procedure scars or destroys heart tissue that harbors faulty electrical pathways using the catheter ablation technique, thus helping the heart beat normally again. If there’s no underlying heart disease, the cure rate goes from 70-80 percent from the first time to 90 percent after repeated procedures. However, complications may arise if the AFib is determined to be chronic or hypertrophy is present in the heart.
Myth: If ablation works, you can stop taking blood thinners.
Blood thinners, or anticoagulants like coumadin, can help some people suffering from AFib reduce the risk of getting blood clots. This can, in turn, help reduce the risk for stroke. The decision to continue or stop the medication is based on risk-calculation for stroke in a formula referred to as CHADS2. Having congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, or being over 75 years old, or having a history of past strokes are all factors in the decision-making. It’s important to consult your doctor to make this decision, as they will always help you make the best choice for your health and safety.
Do you have more questions? Schedule an appointment and talk to our doctors at Heart Rhythm Consultants today. Our team of experienced EP doctors are always happy to help address concerns regarding your health.