Do you (or a loved one) have Atrial Fibrillation?
♥ Are you a newly diagnosed A-Fib patient?
♥ Are you overhelmed by the medical jargon and need information written in plain language?
♥ Has your "quality of life" deteriorated?
♥ Do you want to CURE your Atrial Fibrillation and not just MANAGE it?
If you said YES to any of these questions, then you're at the right HubPage!
♥ Contents of this HubPage
This HubPage is an introduction to Atrial Fibrillation, a beginner's guide, if you will. There are three major sections to the hub:
- An introduction to Atrial Fibrillation, symptoms, causes, risks and treatments including several Illustrations and videos
- A Three Step Plan to Finding Your Cure
- Recommendations for further study: suggested books, links to online A-Fib discussion groups and selected informational websites and instructional Videos
You will, of course, want to do a more in-depth study of Atrial Fibrillation. But all the essentials are here to help you become your own best patient advocate and to formulate a plan to find your A-Fib cure or best outcome.
♥ I Beat my A-Fib. So can You!
In 1998, I beat my A-Fib. Through extensive research in medical school libraries, by studying research journals, and by interviewing the leading specialists who treat A-Fib, I educated myself and formulated a plan. I found my A-Fib cure. So can you.
♥ One More Essential Ingredient
I offer you the information and insights to find your A-Fib cure. But finding your cure requires one more very important ingredient -- courage.
Courage to seek another doctor if you're unhappy with your present one. Courage to refuse to take a med you feel uncomfortable about. Courage to seek the truth about A-Fib (sometimes despite prevailing opinions). And courage to select and pursue the best treatment option for you.
You have that courage or you wouldn't be reading this page.
Illustration of Normal Heart Function
A Cardiac Arrhythmia: What is Atrial Fibrillation?
A serious heart disease, Atrial Fibrillation is one type of 'cardiac arrhythmia', an irregularity of the heart beat that causes the heart to beat too slowly, too fast, or irregularly. During arrhythmias, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body and lack of blood flow can damage the brain, heart, and other organs.
A heart in A-Fib beats too fast and irregularly. The upper chambers (atria) of the heart beat out of rhythm with the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart. This causes the heart to race in an irregular and often rapid pattern, as fast as 300 to 600 times per minute (normal adult rate is 60-100 beats per minute).
Since A-Fib causes inefficient pumping of the heart, the disease can lead to other heart rhythm problems. When left untreated, A Fib patients have a five times higher chance of stroke, and greater risk of heart failure.
A-Fib is often dismissed as a nuisance arrhythmia by doctors because it is not immediately life threatening. Nonetheless, atrial fibrillation sometimes requires emergency treatment. It can lead to complications.
VIDEO: How a Normal Heart Pumps Blood
♥ Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation
A-Fib (or AF) is easily diagnosed by a combination of taking the patient's pulse and by a simple test called an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). An EKG translates your heart's electrical activity into line tracings on paper. Study the following two illustrations. The top is the EKG readout of a normal heart beat. Compare it to the EKG of a heart in atrial fibrillation. Notice the irregular pattern of Atrial Fibrillation versus the steady, regular pattern of a normal heart beat.
♥ What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
Symptoms can include pounding or fluttering in the chest (palpitations), shortness of breath, weakness, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness or fainting.
Episodes of atrial fibrillation can come and go, or may be chronic; and can range from mild to severe. Some A-Fib patients feel no symptoms at all.
Patients with A-Fib often find the normal activities of daily life become increasingly difficult. Because A-Fib is a progressive condition, the patient's quality of life often deteriorates
♥ Who gets Atrial Fibrillation?
Anyone can get A-Fib. But the older one becomes, the more likely A-Fib is to develop.
A-Fib affects about 1 in 25 people aged 60 and older, and 1 in 10 people aged 80 and older.
At least 2.2 million Americans have atrial fibrillation. It's estimated that up to 460,000 new cases are diagnosed in the US per year. Worldwide, there are about 600 million cases of Atrial Fibrillation.
THE GOOD NEWS: much has been learned in the last decade about the underlying mechanisms of A-Fib. This has led to improved treatments and procedures -- offering many patients a life free of A-Fib.
THE BAD NEWS: the number of A-Fib cases is growing -- to an estimated 16 million by 2050.
♥ What are the risks associated with A-Fib?
The morality rate is about double that of patients with a normal heart rhythm; A-Fib contributes to more than 80,000 deaths annually. Serious consequences are associated with A-Fib including stroke, permanent heart damage, heart attack, heart failure and death.
STROKE: A-Fib related stroke accounts for 15% to 20% of all strokes, i.e., about 75,000 a year. A-Fib strokes are more severe and disabling than non A-Fib-related strokes.
REMODELING: A-Fib can damage and weaken the heart over time. Electrical and structural "remodeling" can change the shape and size of the heart. The heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood, making it work harder and harder over time. Heart remodeling is progressive and can become permanent.
DEMENTIA: A-Fib patients are 44% more likely to develop dementia; Younger A-Fib patients are at higher risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer's.
♥ What causes A-Fib?
In many patients, there is no apparent cause for their Atrial Fibrillation.
In others, A-Fib may be related to coronary artery disease (CAD), thyroid disease, structural defects of the heart and its valves, lung disease or other medical conditions.
Research has shown a strong correlation between Atrial Fibrillation and high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea syndrome and obesity. A-Fib can also run in families.
♥ How is A-Fib treated?
There are a number of short-term and long-term treatments aimed at controlling or eliminating the abnormal heart rhythm associated with A-Fib.
MEDICATION for A-Fib patients is designed to regain and maintain normal heart rhythm, control the heart rate (pulse), and prevent stroke. While medication has been considered the first-line treatment for A-Fib, research indicates that 50% or more of all patients with symptomatic disease fail drug therapy.
CARDIOVERSION, timed electrical shocks to the heart to restore normal rhythms. Results tend to be temporary. For most patients, their A-Fib returns in a few weeks.
RF CATHETER ABLATION and CRYOABLATION are minimally invasive catheter procedures that block electrical signals which trigger erratic heart rhythms. Catheters are inserted through a small incision in the groin, wrist or neck. Most patients go home the next day. Ablations can be repeated, if needed. Catheter ablation procedures offer success rates of 70%-85%. RF Catheter Ablation is the most common curative treatment worldwide for all types of A-Fib, and is increasing becoming a first-line therapy. Cryoballoon Ablation is the newest variation.
SURGERY. Today, the traditional open-heart Cox-Maze is usually performed concurrent with other heart disease treatments, and has a very high success rates. The various Mini-Maze surgeries are stand-alone surgeries performed through small port-size incisions in the chest. Recovery is several days or more. Success rates are comparable to Catheter Ablations, but can not be repeated if the A-Fib returns.
PACEMAKERS may be implanted for pacing support, or in conjunction with Ablation of the AV Node (usually the option of last resort). Pacemakers are permanent and are required for the rest of your life.
If you are looking to cure your A-Fib rather than just mange it with drug therapy, you should definitely consider either a catheter ablation or a mini-maze surgery.
— Steve S. Ryan, A-Fib free since 1998
Illustration: EKG before and after Cardioversion
Do you have Atrial Fibrillation?
♥ Frequently Asked Questions About A-Fib (FAQ)
1. Did I cause my Atrial Fibrillation? Am I responsible for getting A-Fib?
Most likely not. A-Fib is usually not something we cause or bring on ourselves. It's different from conditions like drug addiction.
2. Is Atrial Fibrillation a prelude to a heart attack?
A-Fib is not a warning of an impending heart attack. A heart attack is a physical problem with your heart muscles or heart functions, for example, a blocked artery; whereas A-Fib is primarily an electrical or rhythm problem. However, untreated over a long period of time, A-Fib can eventually stretch and weaken your heart, and possibly lead to heart malfunction and a heart attack.
3. Can I die from my Atrial Fibrillation?
Most episodes of A-Fib are not life threatening. It's not like having a heart attack.
The biggest danger from A-Fib is the risk of stroke. Because your heart isn't pumping out properly, blood clots can form and travel to the brain causing a stroke. With A-Fib, you are five-to-seven times more likely to have a stroke than the general population. It's important to discuss with your doctor if you need to take a blood thinner like warfarin (Coumadin), dabigatran (Pradaxa), or aspirin (less effective) to help prevent these clots from forming.
4. My doctor says I have Atrial Fibrillation. Could it be something else? Should I get a second opinion?
A-Fib is fairly easy to diagnose using ECGs, Holter monitors, etc. If you have A-Fib symptoms and your cardiologist says you have A-Fib, you probably have A-Fib. A second opinion is more important when deciding how to be treated for your A-Fib.
5. Will my A-Fib go away by itself?
Very rarely the cause of Paroxysmal (occasional) A-Fib does go away. In a process called "spontaneous remission" the body adjusts to whatever caused the A-Fib and the heart beats normally without any treatment at all. But don't count on this happening. You still need to be under a doctor's monitoring and care.
6. Can I exercise if I have Atrial Fibrillation? How about my sex life?
It's really a judgment call for you and your doctor whether or not you should exercise. If you can exercise without your heart rate becoming too rapid and you feel like exercising, you probably should. (In some types of A-Fib, moderate exercise may actually help you come out of an attack of A-Fib.). The same applies to your sex life. You don't have to worry about dying while making love. Episodes of A-Fib are normally not life threatening.
7. Can I drive my car if I have Atrial Fibrillation?
In general, yes. With most types of A-Fib you can drive safely. But, if your A-Fib episodes cause you to become dizzy, as soon as you feel the beginning of an episode of A-Fib, pull off to the side of the road and stop. Wait there until the episode passes. If this happens often or if your episodes of A-Fib last a long time, you may need to stop driving entirely.
8. Is there any way to predict when I'm going to have an A-Fib attack?
Try keeping a log or diary of your A-Fib episodes for three to six months. Note the time of day, what you were doing, what you were eating or drinking, etc.
By studying your log you may find, for example, that your A-Fib episodes come mostly in the morning, at night, or after a meal (which may mean you have Vagal A-Fib). Or you may find your episodes are triggered by exercise or exertion, by stress, or by stimulants (which may mean you have Adrenergic A-Fib). Some people notice very regular intervals between A-Fib attacks. Observing these patterns may help you reduce your episodes or their intensity by avoiding personal "triggers" or help you better cope with them when they do occur. Discuss your findings with your doctor.
ANXIETY & FEAR
A-Fib can deeply affect your state of mind and emotional well-being not just your physical health.
The constant threat of an A-Fib attack, feelings of depression and impending doom, mood swings, and a sense of helplessness or lack of control are signs of distress experienced by many A-Fib patients.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE...
Others have been where you are right now...
Seek out their stories---to encourage you, to advise you, to bolster your resolve, and to offer you hope of a life free of A-Fib.
What A-Fib Steals from You
♥ By Joan Schneider, A-Fib free after 10 years
"I lived and put up with A-Fib for so long prior to my procedure. I had not realized just how much it had stolen from me.
Everything revolved around an episode. 'When was one due? Has it been a day since the last episode? Do I have any drugs in my pocket? I'd better schedule that appointment earlier in the day, most episodes occurred later in the day!'
It has been six months since my last episode, and I'm drug free! My quality of life has been restored after ten long years!
Just a few things I can now do without going into an episode: Hysterically laugh, sneeze, sleep on any side or position besides [just on] my right side, work a 16-hour day, watch a movie at a theater with loud bass, ride a roller coaster, exercise, wear out my 20-year-old children hiking in the Grand Canyon, go from 0 to 80 mph in four seconds in my Corvette.
Not to mention the 15 lbs. lost due to discontinuing the drugs (CVS Pharmacy misses me too!) I have three times the energy that has been missing for the last five years!
I cannot express how great it is to have my life back!" ♥
A-Fib free after PVI catheter ablation
Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Excerpt from "Beat Your A-Fib: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Cure" by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, used with permission.
KEEP EVER IN YOUR MIND...
Many, many former A-Fib patients are enjoying active lives free of atrial fibrillation.
Aim for a cure. You can be A-Fib free, too!
♥ Three Steps to Finding Your Cure ♥
As awful as an A-Fib episode may make you feel, normally it isn't going to kill you. And compared to other heart problems, A-Fib is relatively easy to fix.There are more treatment options than ever before. No longer are you facing a lifetime on medication just putting up with your A-Fib and trying to avoid your triggers.
Catheter ablation procedures offer success rates of 70%-85%, and even higher if you need a second ablation. If you have other heart problems or can't tolerate blood thinners, the Cox-Maze and Mini-Maze surgeries offer equally high success rates. And for A-Fib patients who have tried all other options, an AV Node Ablation with Pacemaker may offer relief from A-Fib symptoms.
But, you need to act. And act soon! A-Fib won't go away on its own.
Remember, Atrial Fibrillation increases your risk of stroke. It's a progressive disease, remodeling and weakening your heart over time, making it harder to cure. Don't let A-Fib rob you of your joy of living.
Don't let anyone, especially your doctor, tell you that A-Fib isn't that serious, or you should just learn to live with it, or to just take your meds.
— Steve S. Ryan, A-Fib Free since 1998
STEP ONE ♥ Take Charge!
Nobody cares as much as you do about your health.
Educate yourself. Learn more about A-Fib and your options. Learn what to ask your doctors. Think about questions in advance of each office visit. Keep a notebook of your questions. Make a list of topics to discuss with your doctor or medical professional. Take your notebook with you to each appointment. Make sure you cover everything on your list.
Don't stop until you get your answers. Be a pest, if you must, but get your answers.
Ask about your test results. Learn what the numbers mean, what the target is for a healthy result. Ask for copies of your test reports. Compile them in a file folder or binder for later comparison.
Learn about your healthcare or medical coverage. If necessary, ask your family and friends for help to maneuver through the maze of approvals, referrals, and plan coverage.
As you progress through your treatment plan, continue to educate yourself. Read, surf the internet, participate in online discussions. Become an equal partner with your doctors or health care team.
Remember: Be courageous! Be assertive! Get the care that you deserve. Do NOT go with the flow.
STEP TWO ♥ Find the Right Doctor: a Cardiac Arrhythmia Specialist
Most A-Fib patients should see an Electrophysiologist (EP), a cardiac arrhythmia specialist.
An EP is a type of cardiologist focusing on heart rhythm problems---think "electrician" of the heart. (Most cardiologists deal with diseases of the heart and blood vessels---think "plumber" of the heart.) In general, you don't want a plumber fixing your electrical system.
An Electrophysiologist has "more arrows in their quiver" to help you hit your target---a life free of A-Fib.
Finding the right Electrophysiologist requires a little work. Not all EPs specialize in Atrial Fibrillation. Ask your primary care doctors for referrals to EPs, read recommendations from other patients on A-Fib discussion groups, and use the Heart Rhythm Society online search tool to find specialists near you (see the list of Informational websites below).
Next, do your own due diligence. Research the doctors on your list, their specialities, credentials, education, etc. Rank order your top choices. Meet with several doctors for an information gathering session. Beforehand, prepare a list of questions, and make a copy of your personal medical records, test results, current medications, etc.
Consider asking a friend or famiy member to accompany you to help you and to take notes.
At your appointment, discuss your treatment goals, your "quality of life" with A-Fib, and how A-Fib makes you feel. Listen carefully to the doctor's recommendations. Take notes. Afterwards, evaluate each doctor's answers and demeanor before picking one.
It's vitally important that you find a doctor in whom you have confidence, who communicates well with you, someone willing to partner with you as you pursue your treatment goals.
STEP THREE ♥ Aim for a Cure
Chart your path to a cure. Partner with your doctor to choose your treatment goals.Then take action.
Consider keeping a diary of your experience --- tracing your path to a life free of the burden of A-Fib.
To bolster your resolve, chat with other A-Fib patients on your favorite online discussion board.
Don't postpone for too long. A-Fib is a progressive disease that tends to get worse over time.
If you let your A-Fib get worse, soon (on the average around a year) it can turn into Long-standing Persistent A-Fib which is harder to fix.
Once you make a treatment decision, pursue it as reasonably soon as possible.
Next are My Personal Recommendations for Further Study
♥ Online A-Fib discussion groups
♥ Informational websites
♥ Instructional videos
♥ Books and guides
CAUTION About Online Resources: When surfing the net, recognize that some sponsors of A-Fib-related websites may be biased toward a particular technique, pharmaceutical, or medical device (often for financial gain).
Always ask yourself, "Who is paying for this website? And what is their agenda?
— Steve S. Ryan, A-Fib Free since 1998
♥ Online Resources (Part 1): A-Fib Patients Support and Discussion Forums
Online patient support groups can be very helpful to patients and others interested in A-Fib. It's helpful to know you are not alone. Many, many others are dealing with Atrial Fibrillation. Don't stay on the sideline, participate! Join in. You'll feel better talking with others who know what you are dealing with.
These groups are free, but usually require registration before you can post messages or even read the messages. All are good for posting messages and searching for responses. But each is unique. Membership numbers vary greatly. Some offer useful databases of information. And while some are focused on a specific type of A-Fib, they often cover many subjects relevant to anyone with A-Fib. (Listed in alphabetical order)
- A-Fib Support Volunteers: Just an Email Away
One-to-one support by email or phone (not a forum or discussion group). Volunteers offer emotional support and share their own A-Fib stories. From Atrial Fibrillation: Resources for Patients (A-Fib.com).
- Atrial Fibrillation Association UK Forum
AFA, a UK non-profit organzation, with US website, as well.
- A-Fibbers Forum: Lone Atrial Fibrillation
Moderated by: Shannon Dickson, Editor and Publisher of the AFIB REPORT
- StopAfib Discussion Forum Signup
Link to page with SignUp link: Requried to view forum.
Atrial Fibrillation: Buyer Beware of Faulty Information Online and in the Media (3:59)
♥ Online Resources (Part 2): Recommended Informational Websites
CAUTION: When surfing the net, recognize that some sponsors of A-Fib-related websites may be biased toward a particular technique, pharmaceutical, or medical device (often for financial gain).
Always ask yourself, "Who is paying for this website? And what is their agenda?
- Atrial Fibrillation Association-US: A-Fib Information & Advice For Patients
Branch of the UK non-profit organization; general patient and clinician information on established, new or innovative treatments for A-Fib.
- Atrial Fibrillation: Resources for Patients by Steve S. Ryan, PhD
Non-profit patient education. Since 2002, unbiased, up-to-date treatments information written in everyday language for A-Fib patients and families. With personal A-Fib stories and an extensive list of doctors and facilities treating A-Fib patients.
- Heart Rhythm Society: "Find a Specialist" search tool
Professional organization of cardiologists and electrophysiologists; Includes educational section for patients with A-Fib, and a "Find a Specialist" search tool.
♥ Online Resources (Part 3): Selected Instructional Videos
- Animation of Heart and EKG Signal
Animation of beating heart and the corresponding EKG signal for normal heart beat and heart in A-Fib. On the American Heart Association website.
- Understanding Arrhythmias: Atrial Fibrillation
See what happens in a heart with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of fast heartbeat arrhythmia, and learn what causes it. (1:21). From Abbott and St.Jude Medical.
- When Drug Therapy Fails: Catheter Ablation
Atrial Fibrillation Patients Who Do Not Respond to Antiarrhythmic Drugs Should Be Treated with Catheter Ablation (Transcript provided.) Three-minute video clip from Insidermedicine.
♥ Recommended Books & Guides
Many A-Fib references are out-of-date, incomplete or biased toward a specific pharmaceutical or treatment and often written by and for doctors and researchers.
For the non-medical reader, there are only a few publications I recommend:
- Beat Your A-Fib: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Cure. Written in everyday language for patients with Atrial Fibrillation by Steve S. Ryan, PhD
- Medifocus Guidebook on: Atrial Fibrillation
- Johns Hopkins Special Reports: Atrial Fibrillation: The Latest Management Strategies by Hugh Calkins, M.D. and Ronald Berger, M.D., Ph.D.
- A Patient's Guide to Heart Rhythm Problems (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book) by Todd J. Cohen
♥ Did You Know: A-Fib is Common in Young Competitive Athletes
Atrial fibrillation is the most frequent cause of prolonged palpitations in young competitive athletes, even including those performing elite sport activity.
Celebrity Athletes with A-Fib: Nicola Coles, New Zealand Olympic rower, Tom James, Welsh Olympic rower, Haimar Aubeldia, Spanish Tour de France racer, Mario Lemieux, Canadian-American NHL, Larry Byrd, NBA player and coach.
In January 2012, Tom James, Welsh Olympian in rowing, was diagnosed and treated for A-Fib. On August 8th, he claimed Wales' second gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics
Photo credit: The SUN Online, London, UK August 18, 2012.
A-Fib is a progressive disease - don't wait - seek a CURE as soon as practical.
I BEAT my A-Fib -- So can YOU!
♥ I proudly display my Ex-A-Fib status!
My wife, Patti, ordered this custom license plate for my car after discovering the option to include the heart shape!
♥ Display Words of Encouragement for Those with Atrial Fibrillation
♥ A-Fib can be Cured! Words of Courage and Hope from A-Fib.com
Spread the word: A-FIB CAN BE CURED (not just managed with meds). Browse our T-shirts, mugs, totes, caps and other items offered in a range of prices. Encourage others to SEEK A CURE for their A-Fib!
In addition, your purchases generate royalties which we apply to the online costs of our non-profit website, www.A-Fib.com. Visit us at A-Fib.com and our book site, BeatYourA-Fib.com.
'DUAFIB' License Plate T-shirt
Do you A-Fib? Start the conversation with this unique T-shirt! Visit our shop for this T-shirt (in a variety of sizes and colors) and browse our other designs of A-Fib related items.
Steve S Ryan PhD (author) from Malibu, CA on August 06, 2012:
@MarkLim81: Thanks for the feedback - just published yesterday! PJR for Steve
MarkLim81 on August 06, 2012:
Wow, a very very comprehensive lens.