It’s September—back to school, cooler temperatures, and, of course, time for Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Awareness Month! Atrial Fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder characterized by disorganization of electrical signals that coordinate beating of the upper chambers of the heart, affects more than 2 million people in the United States. While AF in itself it not life threatening, it can increase the risk of blood clots and stroke up to 5%, and its potential symptoms—palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, sweating, weakness, exercise intolerance, and fainting—can significantly impact quality of life.
During an episode of AF, the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, beat rapidly, causing them to contract less forcefully. As a result, blood can pool—and therefore clot—in the atria, increasing the risk of stroke and possibly reducing blood flow to the body. Clots formed in the atria can clog the arteries that supply blood to the brain (causing a stroke) or other vital organs. According to the Heart Rhythm Society, the professional society for the study of heart rhythm disorders, AF “is estimated to be responsible for 88,000 deaths and $16 billion in additional costs to the U.S. healthcare system,” and accounts for about a third of hospitalizations for cardiac rhythm problems.
Thankfully, there is a wide variety of treatment options for the condition, ranging from “watch and wait,” to a variety of anti-arrhythmia medications, 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.
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. In fact, about 160,000 new cases of AF are diagnosed each year. In an effort to spread the word about this dangerous condition, the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS), the professional society for electrophysiology, launched a great Public Service Announcement (PSA) during AF Awareness month last year. Click the link to watch the PSA and help distribute it to others.