Properly managing atrial fibrillation, the most common heart arrhythmia, can help save a patient’s life. There are many local and online resources for those who are diagnosed with this disease, which affects more than two million people in the United States.
The Arrhythmia Center at Indiana University Health La Porte Hospital provides heart patients with access to tests and procedures for various types of irregular heartbeats, including atrial fibrillation.
While some patients may notice symptoms like fatigue and heart palpitations, others don’t learn of their condition until they have a routine EKG screening, said Chris Atherton, RN, BSN, MPA, and director of Electrophysiology Services at the center.
“I’ve taken care of people as young as 20 years old and as old as 100 years old. It’s a rhythm that just about anybody can have, but it’s caused by so many different things.”
My rapidheartbeat.com is one resource for those diagnosed with an abnormal heart rhythm. The site says that the heart normally beats about 100,000 times a day and is controlled by electrical impulses. Sometimes, however, the flow of electrical impulses works improperly resulting in abnormal rhythms called arrhythmias or cardiac arrhythmias.
These abnormal rhythms can affect the delivery of oxygen in the body, causing the person to feel sick.
Atrial fibrillation is not life threatening itself, but its side effects such as stroke and heart failure can be. This arrhythmia is an uncoordinated beating of the upper chamber of the heart, Atherton said. “It can sometimes cause the heart to go very fast and also cause it to go very slow.”
The most common complaint patients have when coming for the first time is that of fatigue, she said. They sometimes also complain of palpitations where they can feel their heart beating erratically. Other symptoms include feeling short of breath at odd times.
IU Health La Porte Hospital offers various treatment methods dependent upon the patient.
Medicine is usually the first treatment, Atherton said. “It may not get them out of atrial fibrillation but it will control the heart, slowing the rate down so they don’t feel the abrupt, erratic changes.”
Another medicine given to the patient is a blood thinner.
“When the blood doesn’t flow in a regular way through the heart, it can stagnate. It can pool in upper chambers and clots can form. The clots may break and go to the brain, causing a stroke,” Atherton said.
Other treatment methods include cardio version, an electric shock to the heart to make it restart and go back to a regular rhythm, and ablation therapy, which is a more complex procedure, she said.
Another treatment option is a pacemaker combined with ablation to get rid of the fast tendency that the patient’s heart has.
“If people go their physician on a routine basis, this is something that a physician will easily pick up by doing a routine EKG,” Atherton said.
If someone isn’t feeling well, if all of a sudden they become unusually tired, short of breath, have palpitations, or check their pulse themselves and find an irregular heartbeat, that’s a signal that they should go to their doctor to be screened, Atherton said.