Carolinas HealthCare System
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Atrial Fibrillation: Why You Should Care

Atrial Fibrillation, or "afib," is an irregular heartbeat or heart flutter that can hinder the heart's ability to to pump enough blood for the body's needs. Affecting more than 2.7 million people in the United States each year, afib itself is not often life-threatening, although if left untreated it can lead to more severe complications. Sherry Saxonhouse, MD, of Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, discusses what you need to know about afib—from diagnosis to treatment to management.

Sherry Saxonhouse, MD

What You Need to Know

  • You can have afib without knowing it. Sometimes, patients with afib don’t experience any symptoms, in which case they often aren't diagnosed until their routine physical when it is detected by an EKG
  • You can still live a healthy and active life with afib. Treatment is called "cardioversion" and usually consists of one of two methods:
    • Since afib can cause blood clots, a physician may prescribe a set of blood thinners used for stroke prevention
    • Your physician may also prescribe a set of medications for the management of heart rate and rhythm. These often include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers and digoxin. 
  • Occasionally, if medications are not effective, an ablation or other surgical procedure may be necessary. Patients may need a heart pacemaker after these procedures.
  • Afib patients are five times more likely to have a stroke and are at high risk of eventual heart failure
  • Afib can also lead to Alzheimer’s disease and can double the risk of death from heart disease
  • Common symptoms of afib include heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath

Sanger has the only dedicated afib center in the greater Charlotte area. This means that afib patients have access to a multidisciplinary team of providers, including electrophysiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, sleep medicine specialists and more who work collaboratively to perform highly-specialized procedures based on a patient’s individual needs.

Learn more about heart rhythm care at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.