8 things you should know about AFib treatment options

Dr. Amr Barakat, cardiac electrophysiologist at Ascension St. Vincent's Cardiology in St. Johns County, Florida answers questions about treating AFib.

We asked Amr Barakat, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist at Ascension St. Vincent's Cardiology in St. Johns County, Florida to help us answer some common questions people have about AFib treatment.

What is AFib?

AFib creates two problems in the heart. The first problem is when an irregular heartbeat causes the blood to stay in the top chamber, where it can potentially develop a clot that can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. The other problem is that sometimes the top and bottom chamber of the heart goes too fast, leading to palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue and or passing out.

What are the warning signs of AFib?

In many cases, AFib actually doesn’t cause any symptoms. The most common symptom is palpitations that feel like your heart is racing or beating out of rhythm. Some people might feel short of breath or exceptionally tired and fatigued. Others may have chest pain. In severe cases, AFib can cause people to pass out or develop heart failure.

What are the risk factors for AFib?

There are many risk factors for AFib, including obesity, alcohol, smoking, sleep apnea, diabetes, hypertension and heart failure. Eating a healthy diet, getting the recommended amount of physical activity and quitting smoking can reduce your risk of AFib. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle adjustments that can improve your health. 

Is AFib life-threatening?

In most cases, AFib is not immediately life-threatening but it can cause complications in the long-term. If left untreated, AFib can cause stroke or heart failure. If you are having any symptoms or have a family history of heart issues, make an appointment with your doctor or cardiologist for screening. 

What is the most common treatment for AFib?

Most patients who have atrial fibrillation receive medications to slow down their heart rate and blood thinners to prevent them from having a stroke. Treatment of AFib or getting rid of abnormal heart rate involves taking a stronger medication or undergoing a procedure called an ablation. 

Ablations are currently the most effective therapy we have for AFib. The procedure is short, safe and effective.

What are the two types of ablations? 

A heart ablation for AFib can be done in two different ways, with heat or freezing. The ablation that uses heat is called radiofrequency ablation. Cryoablation uses freezing. Both technologies are available and are shown to have good results in treating AFib. Some patients may be a better candidate for one option over the other. Your doctor will discuss your options with you to create a personalized care plan. Both procedures are offered by doctors at Ascension St. Vincent’s. 


What is recovery like after an ablation? 

If you are scheduled for an ablation, you can expect to go home the same day of the procedure. The procedure takes about an hour or two on average. Typically, patients recover for a few hours after the procedure and they begin feeling better. The recovery is mostly for the groin area where your doctor will access the heart. The heart itself doesn't need any recovery from the procedure.

What to do if you are having symptoms

Heart care can’t wait. When you notice a change in your heartbeat, such as a flutter or quiver in your chest, start a conversation about your new symptoms with a cardiologist at Ascension St. Vincent’s. Cardiologists specialize in atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of arrhythmia where your heartbeat is irregular, either too fast or too slow. 

Find a doctor who listens

Your heart care is important. To deliver personalized care, your cardiologist at Ascension St. Vincent’s starts by listening to understand you, your health history and your goals. We take the time to answer all your questions — big and small. Remember to tell your doctor how you are feeling at each visit. By getting to know you, we deliver heart care that’s right for you. To find a heart doctor visit ascension.org/JaxHeart.