It’s that time of year again! The Heart Rhythm Society (HRS), the professional society for electrophysiology, has designated September as Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Awareness Month. The Society has launched a new Public Service Announcement (PSA), gotten Congress to adopt an AF Awareness Resolution, and partnered with the American College of Cardiology to develop an online resource for health care professionals. But what’s the point?
More public education is desperately needed about this serious condition that affects more than 2.5 million Americans, most of them over the age of 60. As the U.S. population ages, the number of people affected by AF is expected to almost double—to 5.6 million—over the next 40 years.
So, AF affects a lot of people, but why is that such a big deal? AF can be debilitating, dangerous, and costly. The condition can cause a major deterioration in quality of life for its sufferers, causing fatigue, palpitations, pain, and sometimes fainting spells. More seriously, AF increases the risk of stroke five times, and according to HRS, AF “and is estimated to be responsible for 88,000 deaths and $16 billion in additional costs to the U.S. healthcare system.” AF accounts for about a third of hospitalizations for cardiac rhythm problems.
It is vital that the public knows the signs and symptoms of AF—palpitations, fatigue, an irregular heart rate, a feeling akin to “a fish jumping around in the chest”—so folks can tell their doctors and be properly screened. There is a wide variety of treatment options for the condition, ranging from “watch and wait” to invasive catheter ablation. Electrophysiologists, doctors who specialize in heart rhythm disturbances, will work with the patient to come up with the course of treatment that best suits his or her needs.