Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common abnormal heart rhythm, affecting about 5 million people worldwide. AF is a fast and uncontrolled rhythm caused when the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating effectively. During AF, the atrial rate can jump to between 350 and 600 beats per minute. The lower chambers of the heart, the main pumping chambers or ventricles, do not beat this fast; however, they often beat much higher than a normal heart rate, which is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Left untreated, AF can lead to heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, physicians can offer patients with AF a variety of treatment options. One of the newest techniques being performed at Baptist Beaumont Hospital is catheter ablation, a procedure that interrupts these abnormal electrical pathways and restores a normal rhythm to the heart. Physicians often recommend catheter ablation for patients who do not respond well to other therapies.
Minimally invasive procedure
Catheter ablation is normally performed as an outpatient procedure. Patients receive medication to help them relax, and a small incision is made (usually in the leg). The catheter, a thin, flexible wire, is maneuvered until it enters the heart. The physician then uses the catheter to burn (ablate) specific areas in the heart tissue, disrupting the abnormal electrical impulses. Your physician is your best resource for learning about the best course of treatment for your condition. With proper care, people with AF can live productive lives.
Atrial fibrillation: What you need to know
While physicians do not know what causes atrial fibrillation (AF), several risk factors can contribute to its onset, including:
- aging — AF increases strikingly with advancing age; it occurs in about 1 out of every 10 adults ages 80 and older
- having high blood pressure, heart failure, heart valve disease or hyperthyroidism
- using stimulants, including caffeine
Some of the symptoms of AF include:
- chest discomfort
- irregular heartbeat
- shortness of breath
Many patients experience feelings of weakness caused by the heart’s diminished pumping ability. The awareness of a rapid and/or irregular heartbeat may also cause some patients to feel anxious.
Meet our expert
Paris “Pat” Bransford, MD (center), with Southeast Texas Cardiology Associates, is board certified in cardiac electrophysiology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Offices are conveniently located at 2693 North St. in Beaumont. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bransford, call (409) 832-8862.