Published on February 23, 2021
Read Time: Four Minutes
In honor of National Heart Month, Phelps Health Interventional Cardiologist Arslan Shaukut, MD, answers some common questions about atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder.
Question: What is atrial fibrillation?
Answer: Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is a heart rhythm disorder. Essentially, AFib is a problem with the electrical aspect of the heart. The electrical activity goes haywire in the top chambers of the heart, and when this happens, it causes these electrical impulses to go down into the bottom chambers of the heart as well. Both the top and bottom chambers of the heart begin to beat very fast and irregularly.
Q: Why does AFib happen? Is it the result of a stroke or major heart event?
A: These conditions are generally not a cause for AFib, although these conditions can have some long-term effects on the heart, such as heart failure and increased risk of stroke. In terms of what causes AFib, there are usually some underlying risk factors that someone has, such as hypertension, or high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, being overweight, sleep apnea and diabetes.
Q: Should someone with high blood pressure be checking it regularly?
A: High blood pressure is one of the most common problems that we see in our community and population in general. This is certainly one of the very important reasons to keep blood pressure under good control, especially high blood pressure, because it can predispose someone to AFib in the long term. I encourage people to keep their blood pressure well controlled with their top number around 120 or less. For people who have atrial fibrillation, [controlling blood pressure] is even more important, because if [not] controlled well, then the problem of AFib will get worse with time.
Q: Can AFib be the result of someone having COVID-19?
A: Yes. Other than some of the chronic diseases I mentioned earlier, any severe acute illness, such as an infection, can trigger AFib. We see this commonly in the hospital with people who have been admitted. People who have had [COVID-19] or been admitted to the hospital with it can have AFib triggered as a result of that. Usually in those situations, [AFib] does get better once the COVID-19 gets better, but it's important for people to follow up and make sure it doesn't recur and doesn't happen again after they are released [from the hospital].
Q: What are some signs and symptoms of AFib?
A: The common symptoms are a feeling of palpitations, or any type of fluttering or irregular heartbeat that someone can feel. These [palpitations] may feel like the heart is racing, and other times someone can just feel light headed, dizzy or short of breath. Some people can have some chest discomfort, and some people just feel fatigued, where they may notice a change on their overall energy level. The important thing is that sometimes people can have no major symptoms as well, and then they may develop AFib. Being checked out on a regular basis is always important.
Q: What are the types of treatments and medications available for someone who has AFib?
A: There are generally two types of strategies that we use for people who have AFib. One is what we call rate control, which is keeping the heart rate under control [and] in a reasonable range, and we can use medications [to keep the heart in a] normal range. The other strategy is called rhythm control, which is where we use heart rhythm medicines (called antiarrhythmic medicines) and these medicines can help people stay in a normal heart rhythm and prevent them from going into AFib. The other important aspect of treatment is a blood thinner because in the long-term AFib increases [the] risk of having a stroke. [With AFib], when the top chambers of the heart are not really squeezing, and they are just sort of quivering, [that creates] some pockets in the top chamber where clots can form. If one of those clots gets squeezed out and goes to the brain, [it can] cause a stroke, so a blood thinner is important. There also is an ablation procedure where a catheter [is placed] into the top chambers [of the heart], or the atria. Then, [this area] where the heart rhythm originates is ablated, or scarred.
Q: Why is it important for people who have heart issues not to delay treatment or care?
A: In terms of heart issues, time is often of the essence. When people delay or seek treatment, they can [risk death] or develop complications later on from the heart issues that could have been easily prevented.
For more information about AFib, listen to our Ask a Professional below:
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Phelps Health radio host Paige Marsolais-Heitman, spoke with Dr. Arslan Shaukat, Cardiologist with the Phelps Health Medical Group, about atrial fibrillation (an irregular, often rapid heart rate).