Nearly 3 million Americans are affected by atrial fibrillation and projections indicate that 12.1 million will be diagnosed by 2030. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is characterized by a fast, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). If left untreated, AFib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. AFib patients have a five times greater risk for stroke.
Symptoms of AFib
AFib presents itself differently between individuals. Some may have no symptoms and it is only diagnosed by a physical exam. Others may experience:
- Rapid/irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Faintness or confusion
- Chest pains
The MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center is dedicated to taking a minimally invasive approach to treating AFib. When treating AFib, the physicians in our Atrial Fibrillation Program will develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to your unique needs. Medications may be used to treat your AFib, while some cases may require procedures.
Resetting the heart’s rhythm using electrical cardioversion is one approach. The heart receives an electrical shock, while you’re under brief, mild anesthesia, which resets your heartbeat.
Catheter ablation is another non-surgical technique used to pinpoint and interrupt abnormal heart rhythms. State-of-the-art mapping equipment is used to generate 3D images of the heart’s chambers. A thin catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in your groin and it is guided through to the heart. The electrode on the catheter delivers energy through the catheter to create a lesion to destroy the location of the electrical cells of the heart causing the arrhythmia. A balloon catheter is often used to freeze rather than burn the tissue in order to create the necessary scar.
Implanting a pacemaker is another approach to treating AFib. A pacemaker is a small electrical device implanted in the body with wires going to the heart. The wires send out an electrical signal to keep the heart in a steady rhythm. A pacemaker will not cure AFib, but it may be an important part of management, along with medications or an ablation procedure.
Depending on the severity of your AFib, a maze procedure may be recommended. During this surgery, a cardiovascular surgeon makes small cuts in the heart. The cuts are mended so scar tissue forms. The formation of the scar tissue interferes with electrical impulses so a normal heartbeat can be restored.
MemorialCare now offers the WATCHMAN™ procedure to treat people with non-valvular AFib. This permanent implant closes off the left atrial appendage, where blood can pool and clot. By closing the appendage, the blood clots cannot escape to another part of the body, which helps decrease a patient’s risk for stroke.
If you think that you may have AFib, talk to your doctor immediately. It is important to get your AFib under control as soon as possible. Learn more about how the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center can help treat your AFib.