Atrial Fibrillation: My Father Is Always Out of Rhythm!

Updated on September 13, 2018
S E Hurst PhD profile image

S E Hurst graduated from the University of Tennessee with a PhD in Comparative and Experimental Medicine in 2012.

My Father Had an Irregular Heartbeat

It was a sunny winter day over 10 years ago when I got an unexpected call. My mother told me that my father was being taken to the hospital for cardiac monitoring. It turned out that my father’s heart was out of rhythm. Being out of rhythm or having atrial fibrillation is a common, but often under-diagnosed, heart condition. A heart in atrial fibrillation doesn't beat efficiently. It may not be able to pump enough blood out to the body with each beat.

Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition until it's discovered during a physical examination. Based on my father’s diagnosis, two of my uncles went to the doctor and were also diagnosed with heart conditions—one with atrial fibrillation and the other with a blockage.

Atrial fibrillation (A-Fib) is an irregular, often rapid heart rate that causes poor blood flow to the body. During atrial fibrillation, the heart's two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly hence the term “out of rhythm.” Common symptoms of this condition include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, confusion, chest pain and weakness.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the top two chambers (atria) beat irregularly (i.e. not in rhythm with the rest of the heart).
Atrial fibrillation occurs when the top two chambers (atria) beat irregularly (i.e. not in rhythm with the rest of the heart). | Source

Cardioversion Was the First Treatment Option

While atrial fibrillation isn't usually life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that sometimes requires emergency treatment. After the first episode, my father underwent cardioversion—first with medication, then with electricity. The goal of cardioversion is to reset the heart rate and rhythm to normal (60 to 80 beats per minute).

Being off by a few beats—like in the case of my father, whose heart rate was between 81 and 84 bpm at rest—can cause the signs and symptoms mentioned above. To restore normal rhythm to my father’s heart, he had to be shocked three times! If you have ever been shocked, imagine the intensity magnified and directed at your heart. That alone is enough to raise the heart rate!

ECG showing the shock delivered in a cardioversion procedure in an attempt to restore regular heartbeats.
ECG showing the shock delivered in a cardioversion procedure in an attempt to restore regular heartbeats. | Source

When Cardioversion Didn't Work, He Had Cardiac Ablations

Even with the best care and treatments like those mentioned above, the problem of A-Fib isn’t solved. After cardioversion, sadly only about 50% of patients have normal heart rhythms restored. This was my father’s case. He had to undergo yet another procedure, cardiac ablation.

Cardiac ablation is a procedure to correct heart rhythm problems. It works by destroying the tissue in your heart that triggers an abnormal heart rhythm. In some cases, cardiac ablation prevents abnormal electrical signals from traveling through your heart, thus stopping the arrhythmia.

We joke that my father’s heart was so big that he had to undergo over 140 ablations before normal rhythm was restored. The doctor even commented that the number was especially high!

Source

The Good News and Bad News

For atrial fibrillation, several US heart centers claim 75% success rate after cardiac ablation. However, recent studies claim success rates much lower at 28% or lower. Oftentimes, several procedures are needed to raise the success rate to the 70-80%. Just a few weeks after the cardiac ablation, my father underwent yet another cardioversion. Today, he is feeling much better and we pray the effects last. Only time will tell.

This is a photo of my dad and I at our first AHA Heart Walk.
This is a photo of my dad and I at our first AHA Heart Walk. | Source

It's Important to Have Yearly Physical Exams

To conclude, I can’t stress enough the importance of a yearly physical examination. If my father hadn’t gone to the doctor, he may not be here today. I lost all my grandparents to heart conditions, and I certainly don’t want to lose my daddy.

If you have any symptoms of atrial fibrillation, or any other heart condition, please make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Your doctor should be able to tell you if your symptoms are caused by atrial fibrillation, another heart arrhythmia, or another heart condition.

If you have chest pain, seek emergency help immediately. Chest pain could signal that you're having a heart attack. My mother suffered from heart attack at age 35, and it is not a fate I would wish on any individual.

I want to be a walking billboard for heart disease and prevention.
I want to be a walking billboard for heart disease and prevention. | Source

An Ounce of Prevention

I cannot stress enough the importance of prevention. While individual genetics play a significant role in the manifestation of heart disease, making changes in your environment (i.e. lifestyle changes) can improve your natural risk factors and offset the onset of the heart condition.

Trust me. With a family history like mine, I am preaching to myself as well as the reader. Here are just a few simple lifestyle changes that can have a huge impact on your heart and over all health:

  • Eat heart-healthy foods
  • Use less salt
  • Drink more water
  • Increase your physical activity
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to 1 or 2 drinks/day

References

  1. What is Atrial Fibrillation? American Heart Association. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation/what-is-atrial-fibrillation-afib-or-af
  2. Cardioversion. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cardioversion/about/pac-20385123
  3. Cardiac Ablation. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cardiac-ablation/about/pac-20384993

© 2018 Sarah Hurst

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, healdove.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://healdove.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)