Atrial Fib

My heart, my experience



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You probably never think about your heart and what it’s doing. It’s just beating, beating, in a steady, even rhythm, allowing you to breathe and move and do the thousands of things you do every day.

Until it doesn’t.

And then you do. That's what happened to me.

Sometimes the muscles of the heart go a little whacky. Instead of contracting and releasing, moving the blood along, the muscles of the chamber flutter. This fluttering is called atrial fibrillation. Cardiologists will tell you there is an epidemic of atrial fib in America. It often behaves like the stowaway cousin of Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, obesity or excessive drinking — none of which are part of my heart makeup.

I learned all this late last summer when my own heart went into atrial fib.

I was in church and stood to sing a hymn. Only I couldn’t stand very well. My legs were shaking and I couldn’t catch my breath. When I got home, my husband insisted I go to the ER of a nearby hospital, where a doctor said my pulse was 105—my pulse is usually 60. And my heart was going beatbeatbeat, beat beat, b e a t, beat beat, jumping around like a b.b. in a boxcar.

I endured a multitude of tests and left with two prescriptions. My pulse had slowed after taking a beta-blocker, but as I walked up the stairs to our living room, I was still out of breath. It wasn’t pleasant.

The reason atrial fibrillation is dangerous is that a fluttering heart leaves behind little bits of clotted blood. When enough of these bits accumulate, it can grow into a big clot, which can break loose and strike the brain. Most people don’t know they have atrial fib until such an event, a stroke, occurs.

To prevent a stroke, many doctors suggest people in a fib take aspirin, a blood thinner. My doctor said that I would be okay and live a long life just by taking aspirin. I was very healthy; mine was a mild case, though I still tired easily. It was also scary to take my pulse and feel it jumping around.

My doctor asked me to consider having my heart converted back into sinus, or resting, rhythm. We have young children, who like to run and play, and I like to keep up with them without panting. After a little bit of research, I decided to have a conversion. For four weeks before the conversion, I took Eliquis, a new prescription blood thinner with a good track record and a sky-high price. Unlike aspirin, it doesn’t upset the stomach.

I wondered if I would die, though that wasn’t likely to happen. It’s hard to keep your mind away from the worst case scenario. And if the worst came, would my children remember me? Would my husband remarry?

One Friday in early October, I had my heart converted. A team at the hospital zapped my heart with a tiny jolt of electricity that stops it completely for a second and the returns it to its normal rhythm. The only reminder I had was a rectangular patch on my chest that looked like a bad sunburn. When I took my pulse, there was my heart, quietly going about its business.

Unfortunately, most people with atrial fibrillation who undergo a cardiac conversion slip back into irregular rhythm. Their next option is another conversion or an ablation, in which a catheter inserted into the heart kills the fluttering muscles. I don’t want to undergo either. A literature search shows there are two ways to help prevent a fib from returning: doing yoga and losing about 15 percent of my body weight.

Namaste, and pass the edamame beans. I’m going for a walk.

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This story was based on information obtained from the AAAS. Source >>

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