Atrial fibrillation causes the heart’s two upper chambers to beat out of coordination with the bottom two chambers, resulting in poor blood flow to the body, fatigue, and even stroke. It can be caused by changes to the heart, which could result from heart disease or high blood pressure. With atrial fibrillation, the heart beat may range from 100 to 175 beats a minute. The normal range for a heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute. Available treatment options for this disorder include medications and surgery.
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System now offers a new minimally invasive surgical procedure called the “Wolf-Mini-Maze”.
Who’s at risk of developing atrial fibrillation?
There are many risk factors surrounding the development of atrial fibrillation. Your risk increases as you age with up to 10-20% of people older than 80 years developing this disorder. Anyone with heart disease, family history of high blood pressure, thyroid problems or sleep apnea may be at a heightened risk, as well as, people who engage in alcohol binge drinking.
What are some warning signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
Some people with atrial fibrillation may experience heart palpitations, decreased blood pressure, weakness, lightheadedness, confusion, shortness of breath, and chest pain. It should be noted that many people have no symptoms at all, and are unaware of their condition until it is discovered during an examination.
If you have chest pain, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. Chest pain could signal that you're having a heart attack.
What are the major causes of atrial fibrillation?
Damages or abnormalities in the structure of the heart are the most common causes of atrial fibrillation. High blood pressure, heart attacks, abnormal heart valves, congenital heart defects, and overactive thyroid or other metabolic imbalance, previous heart surgery, and emphysema are some causes of this disorder. Other causes include exposure to stimulants such as medications, caffeine, alcohol, and viral infections. However, it can occur in patients with otherwise normal hearts as well.
How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?
Your doctor may run a variety of tests to determine if you are experiencing atrial fibrillation. An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a non-invasive test that will measure the electrical impulses given off by your heart. Another technique involves a Holter monitor, which is a portable device that will record information about the electrical activity of your heart as you go about your daily activities. A blood test, chest x-ray, or other tests determined by your doctor may help to diagnose atrial fibrillation.
What are treatments for atrial fibrillation?
Most people living with atrial fibrillation require a variety of treatments. Patients may elect to be treated with medications or a curative surgical procedure. Typically, these procedures have included accessing the heart with a catheter through a large blood vessel or open-heart surgery. If left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke and/or congestive heart failure.
Patients should talk to their cardiologist to find out which treatment options are right for them.
How is Saint Joseph Mercy Health System leading the way with the treatment for atrial fibrillation?
At Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons are teaming up to offer a unique, state-of-the-art, minimally invasive surgical approach called the “Wolf-Mini-Maze” procedure. This procedure combines the best aspects of existing techniques to improve success rates, while minimizing patient discomfort and recovery time. This operation is unique because surgeons and cardiologists work together on the patient in the operating room. Our results have been very encouraging, both in terms of patient outcomes and satisfaction.
This procedure is revolutionary because it allows doctors to test the treatment before the patient leaves the OR to ensure success. SJMHS is seeing up to 90% success rates with this technique. The procedure allows patients to discontinue many of the medications they use for existing atrial fibrillation, as well as, potentially stopping blood thinners all together. Patients are usually in the hospitals three to four days following the procedure, and back to work in two weeks. This is a significantly shorter recovery time compared to patients undergoing open-heart surgery.
This is not a treatment but a potential cure for atrial fibrillation.
How can atrial fibrillation be prevented?
Several lifestyle changes should be made to reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation. Eating heart healthy foods, reducing your salt intake, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking will aid in improving the health of your heart. Avoiding more than one alcoholic drink a day for women, and two per day for men, will also help to make you heart healthy.