By Ferriss Roberts
Our heart beat can give a lot of insight to our heart health. This is especially true when it comes to atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia.
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, impacts approximately five million Americans with 200,000 new cases each year. Our featured guest in this episode of My Healthy Life, Jason Lappe, MD, says with Asheville being a retirement community, there are a lot of people in our region impacted by this condition. AFib is usually progressive – by age 65, it’s estimated that 10 percent of the US population lives with AFib and by age 80, about 20 percent of the population.
“A lot of what I do, particularly for faster heart rhythms, is helping people feel better – improving people’s quality of life and that’s why I find my job so rewarding.”
What’s happening to the heart during AFib?
AFib occurs when the top part of the heart (the part that drives the heartbeat) becomes an “electrical storm,” Dr. Lappe explains. When this happens, it becomes out of sync with the bottom part of the heart (the part that gives you a pulse and blood pressure) and it’s doing its best to keep up. If the top part of the heart beats too fast, it eventually becomes more like a vibration and can “stand still,” which can cause blood clots.
What does a heart with limited horse power feel like?
With AFib, people often think they should feel their heart racing or like it’s jumping around, however, Dr. Lappe says that’s a common misconception. AFib will often cause people to feel more fatigued or tired than usual or people may have less energy or desire to exercise. It’s important to be in touch with your body to understand these symptoms and whether or not your lack of energy could be an irregular heartbeat, like AFib.
What are leading factors of AFib?
People who are overweight, have hypertension or sleep apnea are at higher risk of AFib. Dr. Lappe says that about 40 percent of people who have AFib also have sleep apnea, so helping diagnose and manage both can help. There are some genetic predispositions of AFib that are less defined, but at the root of AFib is primarily a person’s lifestyle.
Treating, Preventing and Living with AFib
Managing AFib takes a personal approach based on a person’s degree of symptoms or how fast someone’s heart rate is. Options for treatment vary from medications to procedures that help normalize the heart rhythm. But equally as significant as medical treatments for AFib is helping individuals simply to live a healthy lifestyle that supports their heart health. Exercising, eating well, not smoking and managing your weight can significantly help manage and prevent AFib.
Here in western North Carolina, patients with AFib have access to some of the highest quality and most innovative heart care in the nation with Mission Health’s heart program, services and providers. “A lot of what I do, particularly for faster heart rhythms, is helping people feel better – improving people’s quality of life and that’s why I find my job so rewarding,” Dr. Lappe shares.
If managed properly, people with AFib can live a long and healthy life. Knowing that AFib can increase a person’s chance of stroke, blood clot or heart failure, taking control of your health and talking with your doctor can significantly help you manage your condition to avoid progression as you get older.
Dr. Lappe encourages those who believe you might be at risk of atrial fibrillation to talk with your primary care doctor or connect with our care team at Mission Heart.
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Jason Lappe, MD, is a cardiologist who specializes in the treatment and management of heart rhythm disorders at Asheville Cardiology Associates.