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Listen to Your Heart: One Woman’s Experience Overcoming AFib

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(BPT) - Many of us have likely already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Even so, now is still a good time to focus on our health. Whether it’s an annual exam or a new fitness plan, taking care of ourselves should always be top priority. Maintaining a healthy heart, one of our most vital organs, is especially important. With heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States, it’s critical for everyone to take a pause and listen to their heart.[1] Thankfully for one woman, she did just that.

Ann and her husband live in Virginia and together run a small business. Working side-by-side, their career path has been rewarding, but it also comes with a fair share of stress. On more than one occasion, Ann experienced heart flutter, mixed with nausea and discomfort. She regularly ignored her symptoms and attributed them to long hours working, or just another symptom of her diabetes.

“One morning I woke up in bed with the same heart flutter I’d experienced during the day at work,” Ann explained. “It was at that moment I knew I couldn’t ignore my symptoms any longer, so I admitted myself to the emergency room. Lucky for me, that’s where I met Dr. Ayinde, an electrophysiologist (EP) who assessed my symptoms and diagnosed me with AFib.”

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia affecting more than 6 million people in the United States and nearly 38 million people worldwide.[2],[3] Approximately 1 in 4 adults over 40 are at risk for AFib.[4] Despite these projections, many people are unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of AFib which include feelings of a fast, fluttering or pounding heartbeat (palpitations), fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty exercising, anxiety, chest pain, and dizziness.[5] Similarly, many are unaware of available treatment options and the importance of early treatment to avoid disease progression.[6]

“Most people don’t recognize the symptoms of AFib, which makes it difficult to get proper treatment,” stated Dr. Hakeem Ayinde, Cardiac Electrophysiologist at Cardiology Associates of Fredericksburg in Virginia. “If left untreated, AFib can progress or lead to other cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, the best way to avoid further complications is to see a cardiac electrophysiologist, a doctor who treats abnormal heart rhythm, right away to determine the best treatment plan.”

After discussions with Dr. Ayinde, Ann began oral medication to treat her AFib but did not tolerate it well. After discussing the risks of catheter ablation* together, they determined the best option would be for Ann to receive a catheter ablation – a safe and effective, minimally invasive procedure to restore the heart’s incorrect electrical signals, which causes an abnormal heart rhythm.[7] Three months after her diagnosis, Ann received the ablation treatment and has remained AFib free.

“I am very grateful I didn’t ignore my symptoms,” said Ann. “By going to the ER and having Dr. Ayinde as part of my care team, we were able to create a plan so I could be treated and make a full recovery.”

AFib is responsible for more than 450,000 hospitalizations annually and yet less than 5% of patients undergo a cardiac ablation.[8],[9] Dr. Ayinde’s recommendation for an ablation was critical for Ann before her condition progressed. Patients who have an ablation early to treat their AFib are likely to have better survival and less likely to revisit the ER or be hospitalized.[10] In addition, it’s reported that 50% of AFib patients do not respond to or cannot tolerate drug therapy10 so catheter ablation is an important treatment option to consider.

Today, Ann feels healthier and her quality of life has improved. She no longer experiences heart flutter and feels at ease. Post-cardiac ablation, Ann has the energy to engage in everyday activities.

Ann’s message to everyone is to listen to your heart. Do not wait for symptoms to worsen. As AFib becomes more common, it’s important to know there are effective treatments that offer long-term solutions.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of AFib, speak to a doctor right away. To learn more about AFib and treatment options, visit getsmartaboutafib.com.

*As with any medical treatment, individual results may vary. Only a cardiologist or electrophysiologist can determine whether ablation is an appropriate course of treatment. There are potential risks including bleeding, swelling or bruising at the catheter insertion site, and infection. More serious complications are rare, which can include damage to the heart or blood vessels; blood clots (which may lead to stroke); heart attack, or death. These risks need to be discussed with your doctor and recovery takes time. The success of this procedure depends on many factors, including your physical condition and your body’s ability to tolerate the procedure. Use care in the selection of your doctors and hospital, based on their skill and experience.

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[2] Lippi G, Sanchis-Gomar F, Cervellin G. Global epidemiology of atrial fibrillation: An increasing epidemic and public health challenge. Int J Stroke. 2021 Feb;16(2):217-221. doi: 10.1177/1747493019897870. Epub 2020 Jan 19. Erratum in: Int J Stroke. 2020 Jan 28;1747493020905964. PMID: 31955707.

[3] Kornej J, Börschel CS, Emelia J. Benjamin EJ, Schnabel RB. Epidemiology of Atrial Fibrillation in the 21st Century. Circulation Research. 2020 June;127(1):4-20. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.120.316340

[4] Staerk, et al. 2018 Lifetime risk of atrial fibrillation according to optimal, borderline, or elevated levels of risk factors: cohort study based on longitudinal data from the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ 2018;361:k1453 doi: 10.1136/bmj.k1453

[6] Kuck KH, Lebedev DS, Mikhaylov EN, et al. Catheter ablation or medical therapy to delay progression of atrial fibrillation: the randomized controlled atrial fibrillation progression trial (ATTEST). Europace 2021;23(3)362-369. doi: 10.1093/europace/euaa298.

[7] Natale, A. Reddy VY, Monir G, et al. Paroxysmal AF catheter ablation with a contact force sensing catheter: results of the prospective, multicenter SMART-AF trial. J Am Coll Cardiol, 2014;64(7),647–656. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.072

[8] Benjamin, E. J., Virani, S. S., Callaway, C. W., Chamberlain, A. M., Chang, A. R., Cheng, S., Chiuve, S. E., Cushman, M., Delling, F. N., Deo, R., de Ferranti, S. D., Ferguson, J. F., Fornage, M., Gillespie, C., Isasi, C. R., Jiménez, M. C., Jordan, L. C., Judd, S. E., Lackland, D., Lichtman, J. H., … American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee (2018). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2018 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 137(12), e67–e492. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000558

[9] Internal Epidemiological Analysis.

[10] Calkins H, Reynolds MR, Spector P, et al. Treatment of atrial fibrillation with antiarrhythmic drugs or radiofrequency ablation: two systematic literature reviews and meta-analyses. Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2(4):349-61. doi: 10.1161/CIRCEP.108.824789.