October 18, 2017

Top Ten Surprising Things You Don’t Know about Afib

September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. Lots of folks don’t know too much about the condition, which is an irregular heart beat that can lead to serious complications such as dementia, heart failure, stroke or even death. To help spread the word, StopAfib.org presents these 10 afib facts and figures that will probably surprise even some healthcare professionals:

  1. Afib affects lots of people. Currently up to 5.1 million people are affected by afib. And that’s just in America. By 2050, the number of people in the United States with afib may increase to as much as 15.9 million. About 350,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S. are attributed to afib. In addition, people over the age of 40 have a one in four chance of developing afib in their lifetime.
  2. Afib is a leading cause of strokes. Nearly 35 percent of all afib patients will have a stroke at some time. In addition to leaving sufferers feeling weak, tired or even incapacitated, afib can allow blood to pool in the atria, creating blood clots, which may move throughout the body, causing a stroke. To make matters worse, afib strokes are fatal nearly three times as often as other strokes within the first 30 days. And according to a recent American Heart Association survey, only half of afib patients understand that they have an increased risk of stroke.
  3. The U.S. Congress recognizes the need for more afib awareness. StopAfib.org along with several other professional and patient organizations asked Congress to make September Afib Month. And on September 11, 2009, the U.S. Senate declared it National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month.
  4. Barry Manilow has afib. Recently, Manilow spoke to Congress about afib, urging the House of Representatives to pass House Resolution 295, which seeks to raise the priority of afib in the existing research and education funding allocation process. The resolution does not seek any new funding. Other celebs with afib include NBA legend Jerry West and Helmut Huber, the husband of daytime TV star Susan Lucci.
  5. Healthcare professionals often minimize the impact of afib on patients. According to recent research in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, “Compared with coronary artery disease and heart failure, afib is not typically seen by clinicians as a complex cardiac condition that adversely affects quality of life. Therefore, clinicians may minimize the significance of afib to the patient and may fail to provide the level of support and information needed for self-management of recurrent symptomatic afib.”
  6. Afib patients may go untreated. Afib can fly under the radar as some patients don’t have symptoms and some may only have symptoms once in a while. Thus, patients may go for a year or two undiagnosed, and sometimes not be diagnosed until after they have a stroke or two. Because some health care professionals perceive that afib doesn’t affect patients’ everyday lives, a common approach is to just allow patients to live with the condition. But…
  7. The quicker the treatment, the greater the chance afib can be stopped. For those who have afib, information about the ailment and treatment options are imperative. You see, the longer someone has afib, the more likely they will convert from intermittent afib to being in it all the time, which means it’s more difficult to stop or cure.
  8. Afib changes the heart. Over time, afib changes the shape and size of the heart, altering the heart’s structure and electrical system. Research at the University of Utah shows that this scarring (fibrosis) from long-term remodeling is correlated with strokes.
  9. Treatments continue to rapidly evolve. For years, the standard treatment for afib patients was to send them home with medications, some of which caused harm. Now there are additional options for stopping afib, including minimally invasive ablation procedures performed inside and outside the heart. For really stubborn and long-lasting afib, open-heart surgery may be a cure.
  10. You can make a difference in an afib patient’s life. This month, forward a link to someone you may know who could have the condition. Attend an afib awareness raising event or webinar. Or share the StopAfib.org site with some patients. Something as simple as that can help someone become free of afib.

Mellanie True Hills is the founder and CEO of StopAfib.org, a non-profit patient-to-patient resource for those living with atrial fibrillation. She also blogs at the Atrial Fibrillation Blog.

Comments

  1. I just had an electric cardioversion. Now is the fourth day and I am feeling the palpitations again. What are the options ? Am 41.

    • You might come ask that question on our discussion forum so you can get opinions from others. It’s at http://forum.stopafib.org (you’ll need to register to comment or post.)

      Have you been tested for sleep apnea? Untreated sleep apnea is the reason that 85% of cardioversions fail.

      Mellanie

  2. I’m a recent a-fib patient. I had surgery recently (ablation) ! I’m trying to find anyone who also has had the surgery. I would like to no what there symptoms are since surgery. I haven’t had any radical heart beats since surgery & im thankful for that BUT I do feel very tired an I have this need to continue to take deep breaths . IT also hurts around my breast bone area . Like as if i’ve been excercising. Normal or not ???? Or is everyone different after ablation surgery?? Thank you for listening .

    Margie

  3. I am 29 and have been living with heart palpitations since middle school. I’ve had to wear heart monitors and my heart would only have palpitations almost as soon as the monitor would come off. I finally just gave up talking to my doctors. Now I suffer daily with these palpitations and it causes me to have shortness of breath and to become light headed and disoriented. I have two young children. I am constantly exhausted and short of breath. I lose concentration. I never knew that this could cause so many problems until I heard Howie Mandel talking about strokes. Now I’m worried. I have always been active until this past year when it started happening more frequently.

    • Christy,
      Thanks for sharing your story. It seems like your irregular heartbeat has been tough to catch, and that’s a story I’ve heard all too often. It may be of interest to you to find a doctor to work with now, especially since you’ve got two young kids. If you do have atrial fibrillation, risk of stroke certainly could be a concern. Afib-related strokes tend to be more deadlier and more severe, and gender can even be a risk factor. Mellanie writes about “Gender Matters: Why Afib Is More Fatal for Women” published in EP Lab Digest. Also, you may be interested in joining our StopAfib.org Discussion Forum. To post or ask questions, you’ll need to register. Instructions for registering and getting started are here.

      Melissa

      • Christy, i have afib since oct 2016 and having the same problem, im wearing a monitor now, it will come off sept 5 and i go back to doctor on rhe 12th. Really hope they can do something.

  4. Julia Teweles says:

    I am a 60-year-old woman in great shape. I look and feel 45. I have had A-Fib for two years. I take Pradaxa, Diltiazem, and Metoprolol, and my cardiologist says my A-Fib is as under control as much as it can be. My question is: what can I do to further reduce my risk of stroke other than the obvious (i.e., healthy diet, don’t smoke, exercise, etc.)? Thanks.

  5. Hi,
    I am a 44 y.o. BF, I have been living with A- Fib for about a year and a half. It seemed that stress and anxiety would trigger the episodes of racing heart (tachycardia) along with irregular rhythm. This year I had an ablation at Weill-Cornell @ NY Presbyterian Hospital. Since the ablation, recovery has been rough for whatever reason. I have a lot of frequent heart palpitations, PVC, PACs in both my upper and lower heart. Sometimes when I lay down to go to sleep I can feel my heart beginning to accelerate. I went from living an active lifestyle to avoiding anything that I thought might trigger an irregular heart rhythm to begin..including driving I heavy traffic! after the surgery, I was put on Pradaxa for two months, Prilosec, potassium and Cardizem. It was recently recommended that I be placed on Atenolol. I did not opt for the ablation to go back on anti-arrhythmic meds. I already feel dizzy and/or light headed from time to time during the day. I was told that the outcomes for treating A-fib in women can be different from treating men. Is this true? If so, is it because out hormones or a hormonal imbalance can cause hearts palpitations? I feel frustratied because I want to return to having an normal active life. Some doctors that I have seen think that A-fib is “harmless”. Any disease that has the potential to cause a stroke is far from being harmless I think! A-fib has been life altering to say the least. I want to beat this thing!

    • I wish you the best i know that’s not a answer Its just been confirmed I now have a fib what a catchy name for a horrible disease seems like it should be called the monster ,heart breaker first attack was about 2months ago put me in intensive care dr felt it just might be from a night out drinking I immediately gave drinking up took light blood pressure pills for some high blood pressure was confident and happy this was a one day thing and if I took care of my self the a fib would not come back I didn’t even know what a fib was . The dr. Wouldn’t even call it a fib he said it was holiday heart and told me to stop drinking .well was I wrong 2months latter had another attack I just got out of hospital again I now have this dreadful disease I’mafraid to move I’m depressed now this looks like a unbeatable disease even cancer can sometimes be cured looks like the harder you fight this disease the more likely it will come back on you.when I was leaving hospital dr checked me out said you sound great look great well nothing is great now .just like you I was hoping in worse case I could have a successful ablation and be done with it I want to feel good again and sprint up the street like I did last week just like you I want my life back .well that’s enough of my complaints .and I truly hope and pray your procedure comes around and you get your life back

      • Andy downing says:

        I want my life back. I sit and cry all day. I hate this afib. I want to go shopping- i sit with my fingers in my oulse all day. Im so acared im dying. Im on bisoprolol but wont take dlecanaide as it can kill you . I am so afraid – petrified. I just want to live kn hospital n feel safe. Z

        • Brenna Lara says:

          Hi Andy,

          Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry that you are experiencing such anxiety and fear; many others also feel this way. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php?act=idx) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience.

  6. Katie, I took amidarone for nine months with a lot of success – in fact, it seemed to save my life after having an ICD. I had NO choice but had to quit taking it because it caused me to see halos around all lights. I had no insurance when I had my heart attack – please contact me at juli28428@gmail.com and I’ll fill you in on what I know.

  7. i would like to know more about afib caused by heart surgery such ascending aortic aneurysm repair and possible solution, cures, treatments.

    • Brian,

      Heart surgeries often lead to afib, but according to a presentation by Dr. Damiano (heart surgeon) at a recent medical conference, that afib often goes away shortly after the surgery. If your’s has persisted long past surgery, then the treatment for it would be the same as most other afib. See the links below to learn more.

      How Can Afib Be Managed?
      How Can Afib Be Cured

      Mellanie

  8. My son has been suffering for 5 years or more .. he was an addict for years and is now incarcerated for violating his drug rehab rules..for 3 years they have been giving him Lopressor and a doctor 2 months ago because it was so bad decided to put him on amidarone I looked it up ..It does so much damage to your other organs I asked them to consider DOFETILIDE.. .but hes in a prison…but I have power of attorney over his medical needs.Did i do the right thing? he will be out in 60 dayz and has NO Insurance What should I do?..He did not take the Amidarone..He opted to stay On the Lo pressor.They are going to do a Angiogram but not soon enough to suit me…any input will be appreciated!

    • Katie,

      I’m sorry about your son’s situation. I don’t have enough info to help, other than to suggest that he see a doctor right away when he gets out to get this under control. Good luck.

      Mellanie

  9. NORMAN WELSH says:

    I JUST RECENTLY HAD CATHER ABLATION AND WAS TOLD IT WAS SUCCESSFUL AND I AM WALING SOME AND LIFTING LIGHT WEIGHTS AND MY PILLS ARE BEING REDUCED. WHAT A DIFFERENCE; ITS WORTH IT TO GIVE YOU RELIEF FROM THE CHRONIC TIREDNESS; NORMAN

  10. Chuck Miller says:

    I had Afib for 13 years and studied evereything I could about it. After becoming nearly a candidate for heart transplant (Ejection Fraction down to 15%) and poisoned by massive doses of Flecainide and other drugs, I discovered the newly developed procedure, Dr. Wolf’s mini-maze. I had the procedure done on Oct 2004 and have been Afib and Drugs free now for 7 years. To answer Bill Gustafson’s question: Afib is Progressive. Drugs become ineffective as the body aclimates to them and it will take more variety, combinations of drugs, and stronger doses to get any results. Staying off the drugs will only increase your risk of stroke and the first one may be the killer one (30% are). Catheter ablation is proven to have low results (with one treatment, best category of patients are only 39% Afib free after 5-years, according to inventor of the procedure’s recent released study). It will take 4 or 5 procedures to achieve a 75% success rate (but stroke risk is NEVER eliminated). The Wolf mini-maze removes stroke risk by eliminating the source — the left atrial appendage (LAA). One-time mini-maze has average 90% success rate. Check it out at wolfminimaze.com. It’s worth a trip to Cincinnati or Indianapolis to have Dr. Wolf do the procedure. He has the best stats for success and never a related mortality in nearly 1000 procedures. I am living proof!

  11. I just had a mini stoke I am still on coumadin and tikosyn 1000 mg a day.They seem to think since I have not had as many Afib events on the meds abalation should be the last resort. They keep telling me of the danger of this proceedure, so I keep living in fear everyday waiting for the next Afib event.The last one was August 30, 2011. Thanks Marvie.

  12. I have had Afib for about 2 years. I am in it all the time. I take warfin 4. everyday . they have never tried to put it back to normal I am 77 years old.
    I would like to get off the warfin. I am always tired. Is there any way I can?
    Sincerely,
    Ann Warner

    • Ann,

      The only way to get off warfarin safely is to no longer have any afib. You might ask your doctor why they are not trying to get you back into normal sinus rhythm. There are many options for doing that.

      Mellanie

  13. I have in the past had many bouts of a-fib (2003-2004) but since then have been well controlled (no episodes) by meds first Amiodarone and now Dronedarone.
    Since I have not had an episode for many years should i continue the medication or are there other options.

  14. I am currently 37. I had two ablations. The second one seems to have done the trick. I am currently running distance races, doing tae kwon do and many other outdoor activities. Two years ago I could not even move without going into afib. I always popped back into rhythm. Drugs are not the way too go. Electrophysiologists seem to like to start there, but I think an ablation is the only way to go. There are some risks, but so is having afib. If it works, then you can be back to where you once were before.

    • Matt,

      Congratulations on your success.

      Unfortunately, most insurance companies require you to try and fail one or two drugs before they will even consider allowing you to have an ablation. So just about everyone has to go through this.

      Mellanie

  15. Andrew Swetz says:

    Thank you Ms. True Hills, Your reminders to not just sit here and take meds because it’s “under control” are great. My Cardio guy sent me home with three prescriptions and said, “do you want to come see me again?” Well, of course, until we cure this. He and I are now on the same page, I’m working hard to get back into the shape I was a year a go, ‘feel better now, ride my bike hike hit the gym, stay active, the knowledge you despense is life changing.
    Thanks again
    Andrew Swetz

  16. Bill Gustafson says:

    I have intermitant a-fib. I read the above article. It seems my treatment options are drugs, ablation or heart surgery. My doctor says I lead a healthy, active lifestyle and I do not need drugs. This means I am not treating it but living with it. Does this mean I have a better chance of converting from intermittent afib to being in it all the time. How do I lessen the chance of this outcome (preferably without drugs or surgery)?

    • Bill,

      I’m sorry, but there are so many variables that I don’t have information about–your age, how often you have afib episodes, how long you have had it, what other risk factors you have that contribute–that I really can’t address your question.

      Mellanie

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