KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – The heart is the most poetic of body parts. We use it to convey the characteristics of people: dear heart, lion heart, brave heart, black heart, cold-hearted, true heart.
Turn of phrase belies the fact that the heart is a hard working muscle, stimulated by electrical impulse. This has become an ever-present thought for me in the last two months, as my best friend has lived with atrial fibrillation (AFib).
Most people think of heart attacks and strokes when discussing cardiac health, but the misfiring of electrical impulse finds upwards of 3 million Americans living with AFib. The condition occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart – the atria – are out of synch with the bottom chambers – the ventricles. It cannot only be uncomfortable but life-threatening.
A regiment of anticoagulants are used to prevent blood clots from forming, and in some cases medications alone can reset the rhythm. That wasn’t the case for my friend. She’s having a cardioversion next week, where an electrical shock will be administered to reset her heartbeat. Some people live with the condition indefinitely, which can be seen in commercials for anticoagulants featuring celebrities.
The rhythm of our lives is truly paced by the heart. Some people who have AFib don’t know they have it and don’t have any symptoms. Others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Heart palpitations (rapid, fluttering, or pounding)
Shortness of breath
The risk for AFib increases with age. High blood pressure, which also increases in risk with advancing age, accounts for 14 to 22 percent of AFib cases. Risk factors for AFib include:
High blood pressure
Ischemic heart disease
Chronic kidney disease
Heavy alcohol use
Enlargement of the chambers on the left side of the heart
AFib increases a person’s risk for stroke by four to five times compared with stroke risk for people who do not have AFib. Strokes caused by complications from AFib tend to be more severe than strokes with other underlying causes. AFib causes 15 to 20 percent of ischemic strokes, which occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a clot or by fatty deposits called plaque in the blood vessel lining.
February is national heart health month. Do your dear hearts a favor and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check. Your well-being resonates more than the statistics associated with AFib or other ailments.
More than 750,000 hospitalizations occur each year because of AFib. The condition contributes to an estimated 130,000 deaths each year. The death rate from AFib as the primary or a contributing cause of death has been rising for more than two decades.
AFib costs the United States about $6 billion each year. Medical costs for people who have AFib are about $8,705 higher per year than for people who do not have AFib.
Those numbers can be shocking, but they shouldn’t set your heart a flutter.