Over 5.5 million Americans have atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, blood clots, heart failure, and other complications.
AFib has been brought into the spotlight recently with Apple Watch’s ability to detect AFib, and with the diagnosis of reality star Eddie Judge of “Real Housewives of Orange County,” who was diagnosed with AFib 18 months ago.
A personal trainer and gym owner, Judge is passionate about fitness. His AFib affected his quality of life greatly, as it occurred when he was doing something he loved — exercising.
“I would walk or jog but it felt like I was sprinting as fast as I could,” he explains. “It really held me back. It felt like someone was squeezing my heart. I wasn’t able to breathe.”
Patients with AFib, like Judge, want relief from their condition. Here are some steps they should take:
1. Don’t wait to get diagnosed
It’s essential to get diagnosed so you can get treatment as soon as possible. AFib is a progressive disease that gets harder to treat as symptoms get worse. “It’s crucial to get checked right away,” according to Andrea Natale M.D., an international expert on the treatment of AFib and leading electrophysiologist, “since the data is in favor of early intervention.”
2. Learn about your condition
AFib is the leading cause of strokes in the United States and increases a patient’s risk for stroke by five times.
“AFib affects people differently, with symptoms ranging from ‘fluttering’ in the chest and irregular heartbeat to more subtle symptoms like fatigue, weakness, or sweating,” says Uri Yaron, Ph.D., worldwide president of Biosense Webster, Inc., a global leader in the science of diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders.
3. See an electrophysiologist
While AFib patients may get diagnosed by their primary care doctor or a cardiologist, it’s important for patients to see an electrophysiologist (known as an EP), a doctor who specializes in the heart’s electrical system and treats heart arrhythmias.
4. Know your treatment options
Your doctor may prescribe drug therapy to help minimize symptoms and reduce your risk of stroke from an AFib-related blood clot. But not all AFib patients can manage their condition with drug therapy, as the medicine can cause unwanted side effects. An electrophysiologist may suggest a catheter ablation procedure to treat AFib and which may reduce the risk of stroke.
“Most patients who receive catheter ablation treatment experience a long-term reduction in the number of episodes of arrhythmia and the severity of symptoms,” says Yaron. “Many achieve a permanent return to normal heart rhythm.”
When catheter ablation is successful, patients may be able to stop taking or reduce the amount of medication they’re taking to control their heart rate or rhythm.
5. Get back to living your life normally
“The most important benefit from catheter ablation is better quality of life coming from the freedom of arrhythmia” says Natale. “Your quality of life should be better after an ablation which is a huge benefit for patients living with the fear of AFib and stroke.”
Judge had a successful catheter ablation performed by Dr. Natale. “After my procedure, I’m exercising again,” says Judge, who advises other patients to see a specialist and never give up. “I’m back to living my regular life and I feel normal again.”
Get Smart About AFib, an AFib patient community, hosts a Facebook Live event every month with an electrophysiologist for an informative question-and-answer session with the AFib community. The next event will be held on June 5th on their Facebook page. To learn more, or to find an electrophysiologist near you, visit GetSmartAboutAfib.com.
Kristen Castillo, [email protected]