Are You at Risk for AFib?


According to the Center for Disease Control, it is estimated anywhere from 2.7 million to 6 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation (AFib). An even scarier statistic from the American Heart Association—a person with AFib is five times more likely to have a stroke. Unfortunately, AFib often goes undiagnosed.

Dr. J. Christian Hays, Electrophysiologist for the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute, says, “If you are under 40 you have about 1 percent chance of developing AFib. But, if you are over 80 there is a 10 to 20 percent chance you will have episodes of AFib. With baby boomers getting older and life expectancy increasing, we are seeing more and more people with AFib.”

Dr. Abhishek J. Deshmukh, Cardiac Electrophysiologist for Mayo Clinic, agreed with Dr. Hays and added, “We are finding the increase on multiple levels, and because people are living longer they may be getting more diagnostic testing for other health issues. We are also finding AFib on people that may not have other symptoms.”

Dr. Deshmukh pointed out the improvements in the diagnostic tools available. He says, “The technology has evolved and there are better monitoring tools available right now —from event monitors to pacemakers and even mobile-based apps or smartwatch apps that can detect any irregular heart rhythm.”

Although it is not truly known why some people develop AFib, if you have any of the following you are at risk for developing AFib:

  • Family history
  • Sleep apnea or sleep deprivation
  • Abnormal thyroid
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • High stress
  • Stimulants

Treatment Options for AFib

Your treatment options vary depending on how long you have had AFib, the frequency of your symptoms, the health of your heart and what other diseases you may have including, obstructive sleep apnea or heart disease. Treatment options include:

  • Medications
    • Rhythm control medications
    • Beta-blockers
    • Blood thinners
  • Cardiac ablation
  • Implantable devices such as a pacemaker.

Dr. Deshmukh explains, “Not everybody with AFib needs treatment for AFib. However, everyone with AFib definitely needs to be evaluated for stroke risk and consider medication to lower the stroke risk. Treatment beyond that depends on your symptoms. Recent studies are showing a cardiac ablation may be superior to medications as an initial treatment, but treatment is evolving.”

Dr. Hays indicated a cardiac ablation can be curative 80 percent of the time, although some patients may need to have a second ablation to sustain a regular heart rhythm.

When to See Your Doctor

Dr. Hays recommends talking to your doctor about any issues you may be having with your health. He says, “AFib can present in many different ways. You may be having non-specific complaints about how you feel. But if you get out of breath easily and you think you could be experiencing fast or irregular heartbeat, get to your doctor.”

To diagnose AFib your primary care provider may order some blood tests, an EKG to look at your heart rhythm, and a monitor so they can see your heart activity throughout the day.

Dr. Hays says, “A picture is worth 1,000 words when it comes to your heart rhythm. Patients may wear the monitor anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days, depending on their symptoms.” He adds, “The earlier we identify the issues, the better the outcome because AFib can change the structure of the heart if left untreated.”

Learn More About AFib

St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute is hosting a free educational event about AFib symptoms and treatment featuring Dr. Abhishek Deshmukh, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Mayo Clinic and Dr. Christian Hays from St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute.

Dr. Deshmukh is looking forward to the event, “Everyone has their own story of atrial fibrillation, either their own experience or from within their family or circle of friends. So many people relate to the disease because it is so common. At a community event like this, you learn what to look for and how to prevent the condition if possible. You also learn about potentially available treatment options and the pros and cons of each approach.”

At St. Elizabeth Healthcare, being part of the Mayo Clinic Care Network puts the power of Mayo Clinic in the hands of St. Elizabeth physicians, giving them access to proven protocols, and unparalleled experience as well as the opportunity to consult directly with Mayo Clinic specialists when it can benefit patients. The relationship also allows St. Elizabeth to offer educational events for the community that feature both Mayo Clinic and St. Elizabeth experts.

“The Line on Atrial Fibrillation” will be held Tuesday, July 17, 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the St. Elizabeth Training and Education Center, 3861 Olympic Blvd., Erlanger, KY 41018. Register online or call 859-301-WELL (9355).