As we enter into the final week of Arrhythmia Awareness Month, we would like to present our readers with one concluding post. Thus far, we have delved into the facts and statistics of arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation (AFib), prevention tactics, and related diseases. We would like to conclude by offering some insight into how AFib can be diagnosed, as well as the treatment options.
The 2014 AHA/ACC/HRS Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Atrial Fibrillation outlines four stages of AFib, each with increasing severity and standard of care. These guidelines are updated regularly, and are used as a tool to maintain continuity in diagnosis and treatment. The guidelines list paroxysmal, persistent, long-standing persistent, and permanent as the normal progression of Afib.
Medication options for patients with AFib may consist of blood thinners, rate controls, or rhythm controls. Physicians prescribe anticoagulants (blood thinners) to prevent blood clots from forming, as well as treating existing blood clots before they cause further damage. Rate control medications are prescribed to slow down the heart rate by blocking the electrical signals in the atria from moving into the ventricles. Common rate control medications include beta blockers and calcium channel blockers. Beta blockers slow the heart rate and relax the blood vessels, while calcium channel blockers reduce heart workload and similarly relax the blood vessels. Rhythm controls are less commonly and infrequently prescribed because they are considered a riskier medication due to the serious side effects. For many, rhythm control medication initially works, but can become ineffective with time. Studies have shown that rhythm controls are only about 50% effective in stabilizing a normal rhythm in the long-term.
Catheter ablation is a procedure used to treat arrhythmia when the case is severe, and when other treatment methods, such as medication, have not been effective. According to a study performed by University of Michigan, the catheter ablation procedure has led to 60% lower rate of deaths from cardiovascular events in the U.S. and Europe. This statistic is encouraging, as it emphasizes the effectiveness of this procedure. During cardiac ablation, radiofrequency energy is used to make small scars in the heart tissue. This creates a barrier between the damaged heart tissue and healthy heart tissue, and destroys the tissue that is causing the arrhythmia. Catheter ablation has always been the target application for the Pure EP™ system. The Pure EP™ systemworks to enhance data in order to improve outcomes of cardiac ablation, hopefully allowing physicians to make more informed decisions regarding individualized patient care.
It is vital to make regular visits to your physician if you are experiencing any symptoms of AFib. AFib can be detected through a variety of tests, including blood tests, electrocardiogram (ECG), chest x-rays, ambulatory cardiac monitoring, or echocardiograms. It is worth mentioning that Apple's new, fourth generation watch has an electrical heart rate sensor, which can record your ECG. A key advantage of having the Apple Watch is the ability to take a 30-second ECG at the time you feel symptoms. You can read more about this important new feature here.
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