Dr. Soo Park, MD, a board-certified cardiologist with Franciscan Physician Network Indiana Heart Physicians in Indianapolis and Columbus, Indiana, answers your questions and shares expert insight on heart conditions.
A. The fluttering in your heart that you are describing is the classic symptom of atrial fibrillation or AFib. AFib is a condition characterized by a disrupted heartbeat. A malfunction in the electrical system of the heart makes the upper chambers of the heart (called the atria) beat so quickly that they twitch or skip beats. This, in turn, causes the heart's lower chambers, or ventricles, to beat in an uncoordinated way. The resulting irregular beats cause a fluttering heart rate that beats much faster than normal.
During episodes of AFib, some people can have symptoms while others may not even notice. What is important, though, is for people with AFib to be on blood thinners because of the increased risk for a stroke. Because of the irregular heartbeat, blood may pool in the atria and cause a clot. These clots can in turn, break loose and lead to a stroke which is the greatest danger of AFib.
The causes of AFib are usually related to other medical conditions that increase the level of stress placed on the heart. These might include:
Less common causes might include a thyroid disorder or a severe infection like pneumonia.
A. If you suspect AFib, the first step is to contact your primary care doctor. Your doctor is likely to order an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG is used to detect heart rhythm problems by recording the heart's electrical activity. EKGs can be completed in the doctor's office or can be conducted over the course of one or two days with a continuous rhythm, or Holter, monitor worn on the body.
If your symptoms are mild or if they come and go, medication can be used to control AFib. There are heart-rate controlling medications, which slow a rapid heart rate so the heart can pump more effectively, and there are heart-rhythm controlling meds which slow the electrical signals and bring the heartbeat into a normal rhythm. It’s also important to begin a daily routine of blood thinners, or anticoagulants, to help prevent blood clots from forming. Your doctor will talk with you about your best options for blood thinning.
A. If medications don't bring your AFib symptoms under control, there are procedures available that may help such as cardioversion, catheter/surgical ablation options. Cardioversion involves a mild electric shock which resets the heart’s rhythm. Ablation consists of burning off small parts of the heart that contribute to the abnormal beats. The resulting scar tissue blocks the abnormal electrical signals.
A. The good news is that there are steps you can take in your daily routine to eliminate potential AFib triggers. These include:
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the United States, killing over 370,000 people annually. A simple, non–invasive heart scan can assess the risk of coronary artery disease. With this knowledge, individuals can work with their physicians and make lifestyle changes that can save their life.