Is Your Heart Skipping a Beat? Learning More About Ablation for AFib

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Atrial fibrillation, also popularly called “AFib,” is a heart condition that represents a rapid or irregular heart beat. Having this health condition increases the risk of stroke, sudden cardiac failure, or other heart-related complications.

When you have AFib, the atria (the two chambers of the upper heart) beat out of sync with the two lower chambers, called the ventricles. When this happens, the blood may pool and clot.

When learning about AFib, it’s important to view the heart like a house – a chamber made up of electrical wiring and pipes. Over time, things can deteriorate – thereby leading to repairs. If one part of the heart is malfunctioning then, it can affect the other systems in the house..

AFib and Heart Disease

Heart disease is an umbrella term that addresses several types of cardiovascular conditions, including:

  • Hardening and narrowing of the heart’s arteries
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart attack
  • Muscle disease of the heart
  • Abnormal heart rhythms known as arrhythmias

The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation or AFib. AFib produces a chronically irregular heart rate – one that is either too fast or too slow. Therefore, the electricity that jump starts each heartbeat is not working as it should. As a result, the four chambers in the heart do not work in coordination, causing the blood to flow off-keel.

AFib Symptoms

People with AFib may experience:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Respiratory distress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • A rapid fluttering in the chest
  • Brief chest pains

Moreover, the condition can worsen with age if the condition is left untreated. This is a serious health concern, as it’s estimated that around 12 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with AFib by the end of the decade. 

So, it’s important to receive treatment. AFib ultimately can lead to a higher risk of stroke or sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) or sudden cardiac definition (SCD).

CPR Training Through In-Pulse CPR

This also means that people should receive on-site training through a reputable and popular healthcare trainer like In-Pulse CPR. In-Pulse CPR offers lifesaving classes in CPR in the states of Minnesota, Florida, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.

Because AFib can lead to SCA or SCD, learning CPR should be made a regular practice. The needs is becoming greater and greater as the population continues to age.

Cardiac Conditions Related to AFib

Moreover, if you’re diagnosed with AFib, you’re more likely to develop another cardiac condition, which also adds to an increased risk of SCA. For example, AFib can trigger cardiomyopathy, a health condition where the heart muscle thickens, making it even more difficult for the heart to work.

Ventricular Fibrillation

Or, AFib can trigger another arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation – a very serious condition. When ventricular fibrillation occurs, the lower heart chambers contact at a rapid and erratic pace. The emergency requires immediate medical attention and is the most frequent reason for sudden cardiac death (SCD) in the U.S).

Ignoring AFib will, after a while, cause the heart’s abnormal electrical impulse to find alternative paths in the heart.This leads to unwanted scarring on the heart.

This development reduces the ability of the electric current to continue functioning.

What You Can Do about AFib – Beginning Today

If you have AFib, you can change your lifestyle and diet by engaging in lower-stress activities and eating healthier and lower-calorie foods. Find enjoyable ways to be physically active and avoid nicotine. While SCA happens without warning, AFib is treatable.

That is why one of the primary treatments for AFib is atrial fibrillation ablation.

The Ablation Procedure

Ablation is used to treat atrial flutter. The procedure involves inflicting small burns, or freezing the inside of your heart to create some scarring. Both interventions are used to  break up the electrical signals that cause the heart to beat irregularly. Therefore, this procedure is used to  help maintain a regular heart rhythm.

How the Heart Operates

The heart is made up of 4 chambers. There are two upper chambers, called atria, and two lower chambers, called ventricles. 

When the heart functions normally, a group of special cells starts the signal for your heartbeat. These cells are located in the sinoatrial node (SA), which is in the upper-right atrium. The signal that should begin the heartbeat does not begin at the sinoatrial (SA) node during atrial fibrillation. 

Instead, the signal starts somewhere else. In response, the atria cannot contract normally and therefore cannot send blood to the ventricles. This causes the atria to “fibrillate” and spreads the disorganized signal to the ventricles, causing chaotic contractions – some of which are faster than normal. As a result, the ventricles are unable to pump enough blood into the body because the contractions of the atria are not working properly or in sync.

The Ablation Process

During ablation, the doctor threads a thin hollow tube (catheter) up a blood vessel to reach the heart. This gives them access to the heart’s interior. The doctor uses the catheter for scarring a small part of the heart. 

This is done by freezing or burning that small portion. Radiofrequency energy is used to burn the tissue in the burning process. Cryoablation is a technique used in the freezing process. Again, the process helps to prevent the heart’s abnormal electrical signals, which are the cause of AFib.

Why Is Ablation Recommended?

Atrial fibrillation can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as palpitations and shortness of breath. Atrial fibrillation also increases stroke risk. The anticoagulant drugs used to prevent strokes have their own risks as well. 

People who are taking certain anticoagulant medications require additional blood tests and monitoring. Therefore, ablation is primarily used to better manage AFib symptoms. However, the ablation is not meant to replace the blood thinners that are used for stroke prevention.

Nevertheless, the other medication used to control the heart rate and rhythm, before ablation, may cause complications in patients. A doctor may therefore recommend ablation as a solution.

Ablation works best if you’ve been recently diagnosed with AFib. Patients who have had atrial fibrillation for a longer time may experience less success in the long term. If you do not have any other structural heart problems, ablation may be the best option for you. 

Most healthcare providers currently treat patients with medication before considering ablation, 

What Are the Risks of Ablation?

Discuss all of your concerns with your healthcare professional before the ablation procedure. The majority of people who undergo an ablation for AFib generally are happy with the results. However, there may be complications and risks in rare instances, including:

  • Infection, bleeding, and pain after catheter insertion
  • Blood vessel damage from the catheter
  • Heart puncture
  • Damage to the heart, requiring the insertion of a permanent pacemaker
  • Blood clots that could lead to a stroke
  • Narrowing of the pulmonary veins, or the veins that transport from the lungs to the heart
  • Radiation exposure

If you have other heart and medical conditions or are older, you’re more likely to experience complications.

In Conclusion

As mentioned, ablation may not permanently eliminate AFib. The condition may return soon after the procedure or several months thereafter. This problem is more common in older people, those with other heart conditions, or anyone who has had AFib for a long time. Some people can eliminate their atrial fibrillation permanently by having ablation performed again. Others may ultimately need to get a pacemaker.

Author: Donna Ryan

Author Bio:  Donna Ryan is a health writer and journalist. You can reach her at donnar668@gmail.com with inquiries.

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