What does it mean to have a heartbeat that “skips”?  And how prevalent is it?  Among the senior population, as many as one in ten may suffer from a condition called atrial fibrillation (AFIB), a serious heart rhythm disorder.

But what is AFIB?  Here are five things to know:

The heart has an electrical system—and it can have problems.  Just like your home, hearts have electrical systems.  And just as problems with your home’s electricity can cause your lights to flicker, problems with your heart’s electrical system can cause the heart to “fibrillate,” or beat very rapidly.  When this happens, the heart can’t pump blood properly throughout the body.

It’s possible to have AFIB and not know it.  In some cases, AFIB can cause chest pain, palpitations, anxiety and shortness of breath—but some people may not feel any symptoms.  “A lot of the episodes are silent, so these patients don’t know they have atrial fibrillation,” said Hetal Bhakta, MD, a cardiologist with Desert Regional Medical Center who specializes in electrophysiology.

AFIB can cause heart failure or stroke—but these are preventable.  AFIB is a serious illness.  When the heart can’t move blood properly, the blood may pool in the chambers of the heart, causing blood clots to form.  These clots can cause heart failure or stroke but properly treating AFIB can greatly reduce the chance of these events.

Medications can help but are not a permanent solution.  AFIB patients may take medications that reduce the risk of blood clots or even anti-arrhythmic drugs.  However, long-term medication can have side effects.

Today’s technology can actually target specific cells to restore normal heart rhythm.  Some patients are candidates for a more permanent treatment for AFIB called catheter ablation.  Electrophysiologists can actually locate the specific heart cells that are causing electrical problems.  By deactivating the cells that are misfiring in the heart, normal heart rhythm can be restored.  This can be done without the need for open heart surgery.  Just a single procedure with a catheter temporarily inserted and magnetically-steered to the problem area. “If we treat early, we’ve virtually taken care of the problem,” said Dr. Bhakta.  Patients who undergo this treatment require only a single night’s stay at the hospital before returning to their normal lives.

To learn more about the heart, rhythm disorders, and AFIB, join Desert Regional for its annual Affair of the Heart Health Fair, taking place February 14 from 8:30a-12p on the Desert Regional campus.   

Participants can enjoy healthy food, learn basic life-saving hands-only CPR, get their blood pressure checked, watch a cooking demonstration and learn directly from specialists in heart care. To RSVP, call (833) 232.1572 today. 

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