AFib heart symptoms should be diagnosed and treated

by Dr. Ali Kahn, MD
For The Review

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AF or AFib, is a type of rapid, irregular heartbeat. It’s the most common type of irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia.

AFib occurs when a storm of electrical impulses spreads through a person’s heart. This “storm” causes the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) to quiver (fibrillate) or contract rapidly.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Most people experience AFib as one or more of the following symptoms:

Chest pain

Confusion

Dizziness

Fatigue and weakness, especially with physical exertion

Heart palpitations

Shortness of breath

Swelling in the feet

Causes and complications

AFib is more common among people 65 and older. Other risk factors for AFib include having:

High blood pressure

Heart conditions, such as coronary artery disease or congenital heart disease

Health conditions, such as obesity and thyroid disease

AFib can lead to other serious health issues. These complications may include:

Blood clots — The irregular heart rhythm of AFib can cause blood clots to form, which can lead to a stroke.

Heart failure — AFib can weaken the lower chambers of the heart and result in heart failure and other conditions.

Diagnosing atrial fibrillation

Most people first notice atrial fibrillation as a fluttering sensation in the chest. A doctor may also detect AFib when a patient is receiving other tests or treatments, even when symptoms aren’t present.

To diagnose AFib and develop the best treatment plan, additional tests and diagnostic procedures may be ordered, such as:

Physical exam — to check for a heart murmur or other sign of an irregular heartbeat.

Laboratory testing — to check electrolyte levels or thyroid hormone levels to look for a cause of the AFib.

Heart ultrasound

Electrocardiograph testing (EKG)

Holter monitoring —which sends a monitor home with you for 24 to 48 hours, to see how your heart works throughout a normal day.

Event monitoring —which records heart rhythms for about a month.

Chest X-ray — to examine the structure of the heart and lungs.

Treatment for AFib

The treatment for AFib depends on how often you have symptoms, their severity and whether or not you already have heart disease.

Depending on the cause of the AFib, one or more treatments may be prescribed, including:

Lifestyle changes — such as diet, exercise or calming activities.

Medications — Blood thinners and medications to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure or thyroid disease may be helpful.

Cardioversion — Electrical cardioversion is a quick procedure, performed under anesthesia, to return the heartbeat to a normal rhythm using electric shock.

Implantable defibrillator — In some cases, doctors may recommend an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) that automatically identifies AFib and corrects a patient’s heart rhythm.

Surgery — Minimally invasive hybrid ablation surgery can correct a person’s heart rhythm, almost painlessly and possibly more effectively than medications.

If you experience any AFib symptoms, please seek medical treatment. You should become fully aware of the risks and learn more about this complex medical condition.

Dr. Ali Khan, MD, is a cardiologist at Aurora Health Center in Plymouth, 2600 Kiley Way. His office can be reached at 920-449-7000.


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