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HEALTHBEAT 4: Treating Atrial Fibrillation

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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) -- At least 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib.

It's a serious condition of the heart that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. While many people experience symptoms, others do not. That's why doctors say a routine checkup is so critical.

"About 20% of strokes in the western world, including the United States, are related to atrial fibrillation," said Dr. Roque Arteaga, Unity-Point Health St. Luke's Cardiac electrophysiologist.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that often can cause poor blood flow.

"When the electrical signals are not transmitted appropriately and in an orderly way, the upper chambers go out of rhythm, being atrial fibrillation one of those rhythm disorders and that creates what we call an erratic irregular heartbeat," said Dr. Arteaga.

Dr. Arteaga said it seems to be more frequent as patients get older. So what should you be on the lookout for?

"Feeling their heart pounding or beating irregularly or erratically," said Dr. Arteaga. "Some patients feel short of breath. Some patients feel fatigued or tired. Some people feel lightheaded or dizzy. Some patients experience a heavy pounding in their chest or neck. That's called palpitations."

Dr. Arteaga said sometimes patients don't have any symptoms. So often it's detected in a full physical exam and electrocardiogram.

"The EKG will tell us whether the heart is an irregular heartbeat, in atrial fibrillation, in any other arrhythmia, or it is normal," said Dr. Arteaga.

Once a patient is diagnosed with AFib, there are two goals of therapy.

"The prevention of strokes with anticoagulation and get patients to feel better with some kind of intervention," said Dr. Arteaga.

If left untreated, AFib can lead to serious health problems like strokes, cardiac or lung complications. That's why Dr. Arteaga said it's important to see your doctor and adds it's safe to do so now, even with the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To help prevent and detect AFib, Dr. Arteaga said to see your family doctor at least a couple of times a year for a full physical.

People should also work to live a healthy lifestyle. That includes routine exercise, weight loss or maintaining weight, healthy eating, and control of high blood pressure, diabetes, or any type of thyroid problem.

Michaela Feldmann

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