5 Surprising Facts about Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
Your heart is your hardest working muscle. Think about it: It goes nonstop even when you’re sleeping. So it’s not that surprising that sometimes a heart can get off rhythm and develop an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. There are several types of arrhythmias, but atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common.
According to Henry Ford cardiologist Marvin H. Eng, M.D., many people have the wrong idea about what AFib is and how it can be managed. This misinformation can have a huge impact on one’s quality of life.
Whether you’re newly diagnosed with AFib or have been living with the condition for years, these five facts may surprise you.
What You Need to Know About AFib
- Anyone can develop AFib. Your risk of AFib goes up as you age, says Dr. Eng. “Atrial fibrillation is often connected to age-related heart problems like high blood pressure, heart failure or heart valve disease,” he says. But AFib also can be due to congenital heart disease or problems you are born with. Sometimes the stress of being sick can bring on AFib.
- You can’t always tell when you have AFib. Some people with AFib get a fluttering feeling in their chest or they feel like their heart is skipping beats. It’s also possible that you may not know you have AFib until your doctor orders tests to check for it or your doctor happens to find it when ordering another test.
- AFib increases your risk of stroke. When your heart is pumping irregularly, blood can pool and clot in a pocket of the heart called the left atrial appendage. You could have a stroke if a clot enters your bloodstream. Blood-thinning medications can lower this risk by preventing the clots from forming. Unfortunately, some people can’t take them due to side effects or high risk of bleeding.
- You might be able to toss the blood thinners. A device called the WATCHMAN™ is a possible alternative to daily blood-thinning meds. Cardiologists implant the WATCHMAN™ using a minimally-invasive catheter procedure (that means no open heart surgery and a faster recovery).“The device plugs your heart’s left atrial appendage so that clots can’t form,” explains Dr. Eng, who is part of one of the few programs nationwide—and one of the first in Michigan—to currently offer this procedure. “Over time, cells grow over the device permanently sealing off the area.” Most patients can stop taking blood thinners 45 days after the procedure.
- You don’t have to live with AFib. The WATCHMAN™ can get you off of blood thinners, but it doesn’t fix an irregular heartbeat. For that, there are other AFib treatment options, including getting an electrical shock to reset your heart, anti-arrhythmic medications, or catheter ablation. Because AFib affects everyone differently, your cardiologist will work with you to choose the best treatment plan based on your unique condition.