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Doctors Address Rise of AFib: A Serious, Maybe Invisible Cardiac Issue

Atrial Fibrillation or AFib is serious, but may be invisible or may feel like a flip-flopping sensation in the chest. (Debbe McCall/Twitter)
Atrial Fibrillation or AFib is serious, but may be invisible or may feel like a flip-flopping sensation in the chest. (Debbe McCall/Twitter)
September 19, 2018

MADISON, Wis. - September is AFib Awareness Month, and the American Heart Association is hosting a Twitter chat on atrial fibrillation to spread the word.

Dr. Kelly McDonnell, a cardiac electrophysiologist from SSM Health, said doctors are seeing more AFib, which worries them because having this condition makes a stroke many times more likely. McDonnell said it's a quivering or irregular heartbeat in the top chambers of the heart that might feel like a fish flopping in your chest.

"So, instead of someone having the normal 'lub-dub, lub-dub,' some patients will describe a sensation of feeling a flipping and flopping in their chest," she said. "Some people may experience lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness. Unfortunately, not every patient has symptoms."

McDonnell said a doctor may use an electrocardiogram to test for it. Risk of AFib can rise with age, high blood pressure and other heart conditions, she said, as well as alcohol use, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. Treatment may require blood thinners or just general heart health improvements through things such as weight loss. She said it's important not to ignore, because it can dramatically increase a person's risk of stroke.

"When you go from a normal pumping heart to an abnormal rhythm, the top chambers of the heart tend to quiver and shake, which leads to an environment where the blood can clot," she said. "If clots form in the heart, they can break off and cause strokes."

The Twitter chat is from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday. To join, go to Twitter and search with #AFIBMonth.

About 5 million people in the United States have AFib. Much more information is on the American Heart Association's website, heart.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WI