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Advice for Healthy Living

September 21st, 2022

Atrial Fibrillation: What to watch for

Featuring Dr. Ernesto Porras-Polo, Board Certified in Internal Medicine;
Completed Fellowships in Geriatrics and Gerontology
WellMed Port Saint Lucie West
Port Saint Lucie, Florida

Atrial Fibrillation Is Most Common Type of Arrythmia

You have likely heard the term “AFib” tossed about by those who experience it or by people who play doctors on TV. But did you know it stands for Atrial fibrillation, and it is the most common type of arrythmia? Did you know that arrythmia is an irregular heartbeat?

Dr. Ernesto Porras-Polo who is affiliated with WellMed Port Saint Lucie West, Port Saint Lucie, Florida, explains that in a healthy heart, its four chambers – the left and right atrium (upper chambers), and left and right ventricle (lower chambers) – work in conjunction with each other. “Certain electrical events must be coordinated for the heart to beat regularly,” he says. “We have natural pacemakers in our hearts which oversee generating the electrical current that generates the heart beat.”

Dr. Porras-Polo continues, “With AFib, the natural pacemaker in the upper chamber misfires so there is not enough electrical current to generate the heart beat.”

That misfiring leads to shaking of the heart (fibrillation) rather than a full contraction. As a result, blood can pool in the atrium and form clots. Those clots could break down and travel to different parts of the body. In fact, according to Dr. Porras-Polo, “One of the most feared consequences of AFib is stroke from a clot travelling to the brain.”

Despite this disruption to the heart, it is common to have no symptoms of AFib. For many, it is discovered at routine doctor visits with a stethoscope. However, Dr. Porras-Polo advises that for those who experience them, typical symptoms include:
• Chest palpitations
• Light headedness
• Fainting
• Weakness
• Profuse sweating
• Extreme fatigue
• Shortness of breath

The odds of being diagnosed with AFib increases if any of the following apply:
• Age 65 or older
• High blood pressure
• Obesity
• European ancestry
• Diabetes
• Heart failure
• Hyperthyroidism
• Chronic kidney disease
• Moderate-Heavy alcohol use
• Smoking
• Anemia

Dr. Porras-Polo says once diagnosed, treatment includes medication — beta-blockers — to control the patient’s heart rate, as well as anti-coagulants to prevent blood clots. Healthy lifestyle changes to manage the risks associated with Afib are advised. Sometimes a procedure called electrophysiologic studies is required. This is performed by a cardiologist who specializes in arrhythmias. As a general rule, younger patients experience better outcomes.

Can anything be done to prevent AFib? Dr. Porras-Polo says to limit alcohol intake, do not use illicit drugs of any kind, especially cocaine, and see a doctor immediately if you experience any of the above symptoms. If you are older than 50, be sure to get a routine annual medical exam. He also advises to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and try to live a healthy lifestyle in general.