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Myths about Atrial Fibrillation or ‘AFib’

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 6 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation. AFib is characterized by rapid and irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart which can cause rapid heart rates of the lower chambers of the heart leading to symptoms of shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness and fainting. These rapid and irregular beats if left untreated over time can increase the risk for heart failure, stroke, and death. The following are common myths associated with AFib:

Myth: I am too young to get atrial fibrillation.

Fact: While atrial fibrillation does increase in prevalence as we age, medical conditions like sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, thyroid disease, coronary disease, family history, and other conditions can increase the chance of developing atrial fibrillation at a younger age.

Myth: Atrial fibrillation can’t be treated.

Fact: Atrial fibrillation cannot be cured; however, there are many treatment options including medications, cardioversions (electrical shocks to the heart) and invasive cardiac procedures called ablations that can help restore the normal heart rhythm and improve quality of life.

Myth: Having atrial fibrillation means I need a pacemaker or heart surgery.

Fact: Pacemakers are usually not needed except in unique situations. Ablation procedures are often good options to treat atrial fibrillation and do not require open heart surgery to be performed. Medications may control symptoms of atrial fibrillation so that invasive procedures might not be necessary. A detailed discussion with your heart rhythm specialist (EP doctor) can help tailor the best therapy for you.

Myth: I will not be able to live a normal, active life with atrial fibrillation.

Fact: The great majority of atrial fibrillation patients can live a normal life through various treatment options.

Myth: I had heart palpitations the other day, so this must mean I have atrial fibrillation.

Fact: Palpitations—or fast, irregular heartbeats—are a very non-specific symptom. They can be due to atrial fibrillation but can also be caused by a variety of other heart rhythm disorders as well as non-heart related conditions. Your doctor may want to order testing including heart monitors to determine the exact cause of the palpitations.

Myth: Atrial fibrillation only causes heart complications.

Fact: The main non-cardiac risk with having atrial fibrillation is a stroke. Blood clots can form in the heart when you are in atrial fibrillation, and these can go to the brain and cause strokes.

George Carayannopoulos, MD

George Carayannopoulos, MD is a heart rhythm specialist who evaluates and treats patients with atrial fibrillation as well as other heart related issues.

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