Heart Skipping a Beat? It Could be More Than Just a Coincidence.

All too often, I see patients in my office who say they wish they had “come in earlier” or “paid more attention” to their irregular heartbeat. Atrial Fibrillation, also known as A-Fib, is the most common form of heart rhythm disturbance. Currently, it affects 6-7 million Americans nationwide and more than 10,000 people in the Treasure Valley alone. A lot of my patients with A-Fib first experience a rapid and chaotic heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest discomfort, fatigue and difficulty in performing vigorous exercise or just maintaining daily activities. On the other hand, some patients have minimal or no symptoms at all; their atrial fibrillation is often only detected during their visit to the doctor’s office.

Unfortunately, too many people wait too long to address these symptoms. They don’t realize that an irregular heartbeat doesn’t just mean that they are out of shape, anxious or stressed out. An irregular heartbeat due to atrial fibrillation is associated with a two-fold increase in mortality– stemming from clots in the heart which may migrate to the brain and cause a stroke, as well as increased risk of developing heart failure.

Not surprisingly, some factors that increase the risk of coronary artery disease also increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation– including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, high salt intake, excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine, and others. Snoring and irregular breathing when asleep may also contribute to development of atrial fibrillation, if it’s caused by obstructive sleep
apnea.  Approximately one in four patients over the age of 45 will develop atrial fibrillation over their lifetime.

There are several treatment options for A-Fib, ranging from medication to surgery.  One frequently selected treatment is a procedure called ablation, which can eliminate the triggers of atrial fibrillation. The procedure’s success depends on several factors, including how long the patient has had A-Fib.  Generally speaking, the earlier we can diagnose A-Fib, the better our chances are of treating it successfully.

If you’re experiencing an irregular heartbeat, it could be more than a minor problem. Atrial fibrillation is one of the leading causes for stroke and its diagnosis is associated with increased risk of dying,
especially if treatment is not instituted in timely fashion.

We can help. Contact your local electrophysiologist or cardiologist and get yourself checked. It could save your life!

Dr. Margot Vloka is an electrophysiologist at Saint Alphonsus in Boise and Nampa.  To find out more about heart rhythm disturbances and for a free online heart risk assessment, visit SaintAlphonsus.org/Heart.