Atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AFib or AF) can cause serious consequences to your health. And it affects a significant percentage of Americans. Luckily, modern devices use therapy to help control its effects and restore patients to a healthy lifestyle.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is the most common serious abnormal heart rhythm, and typically involves rapid or irregular heartbeats. While the initial occurrences of atrial fibrillation may be brief, it’s not unusual for the episodes to become longer over time. They can also become constant for many patients.
When you experience atrial fibrillation, there are often no symptoms. It’s not unusual for patients to first become aware of atrial fibrillation during a standard medical examination or electrocardiogram (ECG). Other times, you may notice lightheadedness, swelling, shortness of breath, pain in the chest or even fainting. More seriously then the symptoms themselves, the disease carries an elevated risk for stroke, dementia and heart failure.
What Are Common Risk Factors?
Valvular heart disease and high blood pressure top this list. Other heart-centric risk factors for atrial fibrillation include coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, heart failure and cardiomyopathy. And if you already deal with obesity, excess alcohol intake, thyroid disease, sleep apnea or COPD, you may have increased risk, though about half of people with atrial fibrillation have no other risk factors.
How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?
Your physician will begin to diagnose by testing your heart beat, though an electrocardiogram may be used to make a more accurate assessment. Atrial fibrillation is commonly treated with medications that slow your heart to a safer range or control the rhythm. Most physicians will start treatment with medication and observe how each patient responds.
For some patients, the best option is a special kind of medical device called a biventricular pacemaker. Using cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), these special pacemakers help the ventricles contract normally. Tiny wires are implanted into the right ventricle and elsewhere to help the left ventricle keep pace and stay balanced. The electrical charges transmitted by the wires may be small, but they achieve a major goal—keeping the right and left ventricles working together as a team.
This is noteworthy because traditional pacemakers are designed to regulate the right atrium and ventricle. But biventricular pacemakers, using “BiV pacing,” help the left ventricle contract so that both sides are in sync.
Biventricular pacemakers aren’t a perfect fit for everyone, but they can make a huge impact in the lives of those who need them. About half of those who have been treated with medication for heart failure, yet still have moderate to severe symptoms, can be helped with a biventricular pacemaker.
Your physician can help you discuss the pros and cons of a medical device. He or she can also talk to you about biventricular pacemakers in particular, so you feel confident with the decision of whether or not it’s the best option for you.