Six things you should know about AFib | Ascension

Six things you should know about AFib


Most people take a regular heartbeat for granted but according to the American Heart Association, at least 2.7 million Americans can not.

They are living with the most common form of irregular heart beat known as atrial fibrillation, or AFib. Unfortunately, many of those with AFib are either unaware they have it, or are not receiving the treatment they need.

Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin cardiologist, Shariff Attaya, MD provides inpatient and outpatient care to patients with heart rhythm issues. Here are six things he believes you should know about this common heart arrhythmia. 

1. What is AFib? 

AFib is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) and is defined by having a rapid, irregular heartbeat. Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles.

AFib can greatly increase your risk for heart-related complications, such as, blood clots, heart attack, stroke and may be caused by many things such as high blood pressure or sleep apnea.

2. Are you at risk for AFib? 

Any person, children to adults, can develop atrial fibrillation. AFib is more common in people who are over 50. It’s also more common in men than women. Underlying heart disease, a prior heart attack, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, excessive alcohol use, sleep apnea and obesity can put people at risk for AFib.

Because the likelihood of AFib increases with age and people are living longer today, medical researchers predict the number of AFib cases will rise dramatically over the next few years. 

Even though AFib clearly increases the risks of heart-related death and stroke, many patients do not fully recognize the potentially serious consequences.

3. What AFib symptoms should you look for? 

AFib can cause different symptoms. This is especially true when it is left untreated. Symptoms of AFib can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Heart palpitations - the feeling that your heart is quivering, fluttering, skipping beats or beating too hard
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the feet, ankles and legs
  • Weakness and tiredness (fatigue)

Sometimes AFib has no symptoms, with the first signs of AFib being the same symptoms as a stroke.

4. How is AFib diagnosed?

Your diagnosis usually starts with a health history review and physical by a primary care doctor. Your primary care doctor often makes the diagnosis and will refer you to a cardiac electrophysiologist for further treatment. Other tests may be performed to determine a treatment plan such as an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart, or a stress test, blood work or a sleep study.

5. How is AFib treated? 

Ascension Wisconsin cardiologists offer many treatment options from traditional medications to the most advanced, minimally invasive surgical techniques. At every stage of treatment, your doctor works closely with you to treat any existing heart rhythm problems. Your heart doctors also work to help reduce risk for future arrhythmia issues. Every person is different, so a treatment plan should be tailored to each patient based on factors such as age, symptoms and their other health conditions

6. Get a second opinion 

Decisions about your heart care are important. There are many reasons you may be seeking a second opinion. If your diagnosis and treatment are unclear or complex, a second opinion may be helpful. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your heart care treatment plan. 

You should consider a second opinion if: 

  • Your diagnosis or prognosis is unclear. (You’re looking for reassurance and accuracy of diagnosis.)
  • You’ve been told you have a rare or life-threatening condition.
  • You would like to explore additional treatment options, or ensure you are being presented with the best treatment option for you.
  • Your insurance requires a second opinion.

Whether you’re dealing with a new diagnosis or deciding on a heart treatment plan, there’s a lot to think about when facing a serious cardiovascular health issue. If you’re looking for a second opinion, we are here for you. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Attaya visit healthcare.ascension.org or call 262-687-8208. To learn more about heart care and AFib visit Ascension.org/WisconsinHeart.