It was four-o-clock in the morning. I woke up short of breath, my heart was doing flip flops in my chest. I took my blood pressure and it was 180/102. I could feel the sweat rolling down my face. I began to panic. Was this the heart attack that I was told that my obesity might cause? I wasn’t rational. I got in my car and I began to drive. It took me about 30 minutes of driving around in circles before I ended up going to the hospital. They took my vital signs. My blood pressure was still high. My heart was racing at over 130 b.p.m. They hooked me up to the heart monitor and told me that I had something called atrial fibrillation. They transported me to a nearby heart hospital and put me in the progressive care room.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm. It can be acute (episodic) or chronic (long-lasting) It is caused when the upper chamber (atria) of the heart beats erratically and becomes out of sync with the lower chambers. The synchronization of the atria and the ventricles occurs when the electricity that makes the heart beat first passes through the SA node (the heart’s natural pacemaker) into the AV node. In A-fib, the electrical current by-passes the SA node and goes directly into the AV node this causes the irregular rhythm (AHA). By itself, it is not life-threatening but its complications can be. The pumping action of the upper chamber in A-fib isn’t sufficient enough to move the blood out of the chamber so the blood can pool and clot leading to heart attack or stroke (Mayo Clinic). It also can cause the bottom chambers (ventricles) or the heart to beat ineffectively as well which is a much more dangerous situation. Prolonged, untreated atrial fibrillation can cause heart failure. According to the American Heart Association, 2.2 million people have A-fib. The chances of getting it increase with age.
I was hooked up to an I-V filled with a medicine called cardiziem. It is one of the drugs that doctors can try and use to convert the heart back to a regular beat. It is one of the first ones that they use because the other drugs have more serious side effect. If drugs do not work, electric shock can be administered in order to get the heart back to normal rhythm. Finally, a surgery called atrial ablation can be performed where the atrial node is cauterized or frozen (USC) and then a pacemaker is implanted to control the electrical activity.
I take medicine on a daily basis to control my atrial fibrillation. This not only includes cardiziem to control the beating of my heart but low-dose aspirin therapy to reduce the chance of clots. I am doing well now.
Sites used for this article were:
American Heart Association: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4451
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/atrial-fibrillation/ds00291
University of Southern California: http://www.cts.usc.edu/zglossary-avnodeablation.html