(BPT) - Meet Josh, a 46-year-old father of four from Texas. Josh leads a very active life and enjoys riding motorcycles and spending time outdoors with his children and grandchildren. Josh’s life suddenly changed after he was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and spent several weeks receiving treatments. Two years later, when Josh thought his heart condition was behind him, Josh’s wife became concerned when she noticed his heart was beating irregularly.
“My wife was lying on my chest one evening and felt the irregularity of my heartbeat,” Josh said of his arrhythmia. “I don’t know how long I had been experiencing the rhythm. She insisted I call the doctor the next day and I was admitted into the hospital for Atrial Fibrillation.”
Atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AF or AFib) is the most common heart rhythm disorder, impacting more than 33 million people worldwide. AF also presents an increased risk of stroke and heart failure. With AF, the upper chambers of the heart beat very quickly and irregularly, compromising the ability of the heart to pump blood efficiently to the rest of the body.
While Josh had a history of congestive heart failure, a common cause of AF, he never experienced any symptoms of AF. Fortunately, by addressing the signs of AF and seeking treatment early, Josh was able to discuss with his physician the best way to manage his arrhythmia.
Every patient’s journey can be different, but here are four questions to consider and discuss with your doctor to make sure you’re smart about the signs and symptoms of AF and the best ways to manage this common heart condition.
Four Questions to Ask Your Doctor about AF
- What are the signs and symptoms of AF?
Knowing the signs, symptoms and risk factors to spot AF early can be lifesaving. AF most often affects people with existing heart disease, or those who have had a heart attack, congestive heart failure or heart surgery. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, clogged arteries, diabetes, overactive thyroid, emphysema or other lung diseases, viral infections, sleep apnea, stress, fatigue and age.
Common symptoms of AF include:
- Heart palpitations (skips a beat, beats rapidly, thumps)
- Shortness of breath
- Angina (chest pain or discomfort)
- How is AF diagnosed?
Detecting AF can sometimes be challenging as it often occurs without notice. Forty percent of people with this life-threatening condition experience no symptoms — which is why many doctors call it a silent killer. Patients might be able to detect AF early if they notice a skipped heartbeat, a thud or thump followed by a racing heart rate for an extended amount of time, or symptoms mimicking a heart attack.
Doctors may use one or more of the following tests to determine if a patient has AF:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Stress test
- Longer-term monitoring devices
- Event recorder
- Holter monitor
- Insertable cardiac monitor
For Josh, an Insertable Cardiac Monitor (ICM) was the chosen tool to help determine what was going on with his heart.
ICMs are implanted through a minimally-invasive procedure, and the device is placed just beneath the skin through a small incision in the upper left side of the chest. This allows physicians to continuously and wirelessly monitor a patient’s heartbeat for up to three years.
An AF diagnosis may be overwhelming and come with a lot of questions — causes, symptoms, treatment options, etc. It’s important to talk with your doctor to feel confident in your diagnosis and road forward.
- What do treatment options look like?
There are many treatment options for AF patients including medications, cardioversion, catheter ablation and surgical ablation procedures.
Catheter ablation is performed by an electrophysiologist (EP), a heart doctor who specializes in heart rhythms. Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure in which the doctor advances a flexible thin tube (catheter) through the blood vessels to your heart. There are two types of catheter ablation procedures — one involves using cold energy to freeze the tissue (cryoablation) and the other is heat-based (radiofrequency ablation). Josh chose cryoablation for this treatment. Surgical ablation also treats the abnormal rhythms, but access to the heart is more invasive through open-heart surgery.
- Can I still live my best life with AF?
With early diagnosis and treatment, AF can be managed so that it doesn’t need to impact your overall quality of life.
Take Josh as an example: after his cryoablation procedure he said, “My heart is back to normal function and I’m not taking any medication. I still have my device monitor to watch for AF and I haven’t had any AF episodes since my cryoablation.”
In fact, Josh is back on his motorcycle and able to fully enjoy cruising down wide-open roads and spending time with his wife and family.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of AF, don’t hesitate to speak to a doctor. Learn more about AF treatment options at https://www.medtronic.com/us-en/c/cardiac-rhythm/af-awareness-month.html.
 Chugh S, Havmoeller R, Narayanan K, et al. Worldwide epidemiology of atrial fibrillation: a global burden of disease 2010 study. Circulation. 2014; 129:837-847.
 Chamberlain AM, Redfield MM, Alonso A, Weston SA, Roger VL. Atrial fibrillation and mortality in heart failure: a community study. Circ Heart Fail. November 2011;4(6):740-746.
 Chamberlain AM, Byrne MC, Alonso A, et al. Comorbidity Burden in Atrial Fibrillation: A Population-Based Case-Control Study. Circulation. March 4, 2015;131:Suppl 1:AP108.