Atrial Fibrillation in a Beat

Northwestern Medicine
Cardiology April 22, 2013

Atrial Fibrillation flyer with a heart outline in the sandThis blog entry is written by Abbey Lichten, MPH, CHES. Abbey is a health education coordinator for the Alberto Culver Health Learning Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Did you know that the human heart beats about 100,000 times a day and roughly 35 million times in a year? A sporadic flutter from time to time may not necessarily be cause for concern, but if you notice your heart suddenly racing or if you have irregular heartbeats that last several minutes, you may have Atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a condition that affects roughly one in four Americans.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Center for Heart Rhythm Disorders in collaboration with the Alberto Culver Health Learning Center hosted The Beat on Atrial Fibrillation on Tuesday, March 12. The program, which brought together Northwestern experts and more than 100 participants from the community, was designed to raise awareness and highlight innovative approaches related to the detection and management of A-fib.

A-fib can often be a precursor to stroke, making a person with A-fib five times more likely to develop a stroke, explained Richard Bernstein, MD, PhD, neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and director of the stroke program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, cardiologist and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, kicked off the program with information about the prevalence and risk factors of A-fib. The older we get, the higher our risk for developing A-fib becomes. In addition to age, the disease can be caused by many other factors, including but not limited to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Mitral valve disorders
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Family history of A-fib
  • Lung diseases
  • Sleep apnea

Common symptoms occur in about 80% of patients with A-fib, explained Rod Passman, MD, heart rhythm specialist and medical director for the Program for Atrial Fibrillation at Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. Some common symptoms include shortness of breath, palpitations, fatigue, chest pain and dizziness. In some patients, there are no symptoms at all, and many patients only feel a small portion of their episodes.

Dr. Passman and S. Chris Malaisrie, MD, cardiac surgeon and surgical director of the Thoracic Aortic Surgery Program at Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, covered treatment therapies and new technology. According to experts, the treatment options depend on your symptoms, how long you've had A-fib and the original cause of it. Generally, the goals of treatment are to control the heart rate during episodes of A-fib, prevent stroke and maintain a normal heart rhythm in those that have A-fib symptoms.

Regardless of age or other risk factors, it’s vital to make lifestyle changes that contribute to overall heart health, especially to prevent or treat conditions such as high blood and cholesterol. Some daily heart healthy tips include: 

  • Eat heart-healthy foods and incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet
  • Get moving - increase your physical activity
  • Aim for 2,000 mg or less of salt/day
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid excessive drinking

For more information regarding Atrial fibrillation, please call the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 312-694-AFIB (2342) and ask to speak with one of our dedicated A-fib nurses. Jane Kruse, RN, and Mary Navarrete, RN can provide information, answer questions and assist you with treatment options that best fit your needs. You can also request a first-time appointment online.

If you are looking for more heart health tips or a free one-on-one health education consultation, contact the Health Learning Center at 312.926.LINK (5465). 

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