An irregular heartbeat
Published 11:16 am Monday, October 3, 2022
Most of you know that on June 1, Dr. Evans Kemp joined our staff as Director of the new St. Luke’s Cardiology department. Dr. Kemp is a national leader in the advanced diagnosis, innovative treatments, and management of cardiovascular diseases. He is particularly interested in structural heart imaging, valvular heart disease, congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, and preventive cardiology. One area in which Dr. Kemp excels is in the diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation (Afib).
September was National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. And with the establishment of our new cardiology department, it is essential to increase awareness of Afib in Polk County.
Afib is an irregular heartbeat originating in the heart’s upper chambers and caused by the interruption of regular electrical impulses. Afib is the most common heart rhythm abnormality. Symptoms include exhaustion, a racing heart, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Left untreated, Afib can lead to congestive heart failure, stroke, falls, loss of consciousness, and poor quality of life.
There are three primary forms of atrial fibrillation:
Paroxysmal Afib lasts less than a week, and the heart rhythm usually normalizes without treatment.
Persistent Afib lasts more than one week and requires treatment.
Long-standing persistent Afib lasts more than a year and can be challenging to treat.
Did you know:
- Afib patients are five times more likely to have a stroke
- Women (adjusting for height differences) are fifty percent more likely to develop Afib
- People of European descent are more likely to develop Afib
- Afib is becoming more prevalent as the overall population ages
- Nearly one in eleven people ages sixty-five and older have Afib
- An estimated nine million people in the US will have Afib in 2022
- By 2030, more than 12.1 million Americans will have Afib
Dr. Kemp told me, “anyone at any age can develop Afib, but the risks increase with age.” In addition, he said, “Afib in and of itself isn’t life-threatening, but it often leads to serious complications like stroke, heart failure, and heart attack.” In preparation for this article, I read that some researchers now believe that Afib can also lead to cognitive decline. Factors that lead to the development of Afib include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Chronic conditions (asthma, diabetes, thyroid issues)
- Family history
- Heart disease (acute coronary syndrome, heart attack, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, valve issues)
- Uncontrolled High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
If the ventricles are beating normally or at a slightly elevated rate, Afib can present with no symptoms. However, if the ventricles beat faster, you will feel symptoms like:
- Chest pain
- Extreme fatigue
- Fluttering feeling in your chest
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
If your pulse is erratic or feels weak, you may be in Afib. At the same time, early Afib may present symptoms of fatigue or shortness of breath. Become aware of Afib symptoms and keep a list of the signs and when to share them with your provider. Do not delay. Timely detection and treatment can save your life.
Standard treatments for Afib include:
- Lifestyle change
With the addition of Dr. Kemp to the staff at St. Luke’s, we can now place an Afib heart back in rhythm through a procedure called cardioversion.
Like so many other medical conditions I have written about in this column, lifestyle decisions are the strongest prophylaxis for Afib. Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption, not smoking, and controlling blood pressure are crucial to keeping Afib at bay.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned in this article or have other heart or vascular conditions, please get in touch with Dr. Kemp at (828) 894-5627. You can also learn more about St. Luke’s Cardiology by visiting StLukesNC.org/heart.
If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or visit StLukesNC.org to learn about top-rated St. Luke’s Hospital and our new world-class services.