September is Atrial Fibrillation month: Know the signs and treatment options | Ascension

September is Atrial Fibrillation month: Know the signs and treatment options

Dr. Jason Foreman from Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola writes about atrial fibrillation.

Dr. Jason Foreman, Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola

When your heart jumps out of rhythm, it’s called an arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most common form. According to the CDC, AFib can increase risk of stroke by five times and also puts patients at risk for heart failure. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that up to half of all patients don’t realize they have this common heart condition. That makes awareness and screening key. This AFib Awareness Month, learn risk factors, the symptoms and latest treatment options for AFib.

AFib risk factors

AFib is very common, especially as we age. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people over age 40 have a 1-in-4 lifetime risk of developing atrial fibrillation. That said, AFib increases steadily with age. 

Additional risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation include obesity, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, valvular heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, diabetes or metabolic syndrome, lung disease or kidney disease. Certain behaviors can also increase your risk for AFib. These include smoking and alcohol abuse. High stress levels and mental health conditions can also be a factor in atrial fibrillation. 

Signs and symptoms

AFib affects millions of Americans, but because many don’t experience any symptoms, the condition often goes undiagnosed. These patients are only diagnosed through regular exams and screenings. For those who do experience AFib symptoms, these can include irregular heartbeat or palpitations, lightheadedness or dizziness, shortness of breath, faintness or confusion, extreme fatigue, and/or chest discomfort. 

Latest AFib treatment options

Our team of cardiologists at Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola are highly experienced in catheter ablation for AFib. This is a catheter-based procedure that eliminates the abnormal electrical impulses that serve as the trigger for AFib. It has been proven to perform more effectively than medication for many patients. However, every case of AFib is different, which is why a tailored treatment plan is essential. Whatever your need, we have an AFib clinic that can help. 

It is also very important to reduce the risk of stroke for patients with AFib. While Warfarin was the standard treatment for decades, there are now newer blood thinners that do not have food interactions, do not require blood tests for monitoring, and are now the standard of care. Many patients can manage AFib with oral blood thinners to reduce stroke risk. Unfortunately, they can carry a small risk of unintended bleeding which can be a problem for some people. At Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola, we also perform procedures to implant the WATCHMAN device that allow us to reduce the risk of stroke without putting patients at risk for increased bleeding.

See your doctor for annual examination

This month, take control of your heart health by making your yearly appointment with your doctor. Because AFib can often have subtle symptoms, annual screening is important, especially if you are over age 65. If you or a loved one may have a heart rhythm disorder, speak to your primary care doctor or cardiologist today. 

Dr. Jason Foreman is a cardiac electrophysiologist with Ascension Sacred Heart. He is a member of the American Osteopathic Association, American College of Cardiology, and the Heart Rhythm Society. 

Learn More

Cardiologists at Ascension Sacred Heart in Northwest Florida deliver specialized heart care for atrial fibrillation and other heart arrhythmias. Click here to learn more.