Detecting and managing atrial fibrillation

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – If you find yourself short of breath often, you could be one of millions of Americans with atrial fibrillation, or afib for short.

It’s a leading cause of stroke and congestive heart failure in the U.S.

Atrial fibrillation is a kind of irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots and cause strokes or heart attacks.

“It can make patients feel tired, short of breath, sometimes have chest pain and overall a sense that something’s not right,” says Bon Secours St. Francis Cardiologist Dr. Matthew Sellers.

Dr. Sellers says anyone with those symptoms should see a doctor right away because the longer you wait, the harder it is to treat it.

“It becomes irreversible if it’s not managed early,” he says. “If you’re a patient that has high blood pressure and sleep apnea and diabetes or heart failure or any combination of those problems, you’re at a much higher risk.”

If that description fits you, Dr. Sellers says you may benefit from a defibrillator, which can detect heart beat irregularities and send a shock to restore it to its natural rhythm.

This year, Bon Secours St. Francis was the first hospital system in the nation to use the latest defibrillator device to hit the market made by the company Biotronik.

“Their newest device is much smaller, has much higher battery longevity, and patients require less procedures to replace that battery,” Dr. Sellers says.

Treatment can involve everything from blood thinning medications to catheter-based procedures in the heart, but there are some lifestyle changes that help too.

A recent study funded in part by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute shows that catheter ablations, which are minimally invasive procedures, are no more effective at preventing strokes or heart failure than drug therapies. However, it does show that ablations significantly decrease symptoms and increase quality of life.

“Exercise, diet, weight loss and controlling blood pressure and sleep apnea are probably the biggest things when it comes to managing afib,” he says.

If you are a high risk for afib, he also recommends keeping up with your annual physical exams and getting an EKG once a year.

For more information about atrial fibrillation, click here.

To submit a question for our series, click here. You can also hear from experts at Bon Secours St. Francis on this topic and others every Saturday morning at 10am on 106.3 WORD radio. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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