Living with Atrial Fibrillation

Posted By SHL Librarian

Presented by: Amin Al-Ahmad, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Cardiovascular Medicine
Stanford Medical Center
Associate Director, Stanford Arrhythmia Program and Cardiac Electrophysiology Laboratory

Lecture Overview:
Atrial Fibrillation, an erratic beating of the upper chambers of the heart, affects 2.3 million Americans and with its prevalence rising in our aging population it is projected that by 2050, there will be more than 5 million Americans suffering from this worrisome condition. Afib, as it is often called, comes on as an irregular or faster than normal heart rate and is diagnosed using an electrocardiogram. It can lead to major health complications, as Dr. Al-Ahmad outlined in his fact-filled lecture. One-sixth of all strokes are associated with Afib. In particular, blood clots in the left arm can occur and lead to stroke as the result of Afib. In addition, the prolonged rapid heart rate of Afib can lead to a weakened heart muscle that in turn leads to congestive heart failure.

Who is at risk for Atrial Fibrillation?

  • Patients with diseases of the heart and heart valves are at risk for Afib
  • Hypertension is also a leading risk factor

Other risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Diabetes

How is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?
Treatments for Afib are made on a patient by patient basis and may include:

  • Heart Rate Control – Medications are used to control heart rate and blood thinners to prevent blood clots from forming
  • Beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers are used along with coumadin (warfarin), the only drug known to decrease risk of ischemic stroke

Rhythm Control – Therapies used to maintain normal heart rhythm
According to Dr. Al-Ahmad, a patient with Afib has, at best, a 70 percent chance of maintaining a normal heart rhythm and may need to try different medications with the realistic goal of reducing atrial fibrillation rather than eliminating it, and keeping side effects to a minimum.

Open-chest surgery – few medical centers offer this catheter ablative procedure.
Catheter ablation- The success rate for the latest ablative procedures at Stanford is high, but depends on patient characteristics as well.

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