John Onufer, M.D., FACC, FHRS, Board-Certified Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiologist
For someone who may not know, how would you describe AFib?
Atrial fibrillation is one of the many different types of heart arrhythmia, and it’s actually our most frequent, especially as one gets older. It results from disordered electrical activation in the atrium, the top chamber of the heart, which—because it is the driving chamber of the bottom chamber of the heart, the ventricle—results in the ventricle beating very erratically and, usually, pretty rapidly.
What are the symptoms of AFib?
It can be anything from completely asymptomatic in some patients to completely disabling in others. So the spectrum can be quite wide, and we don’t always understand why some people are more or less symptomatic. But, as a general rule, patients will notice palpitations, or irregular heartbeat. Most commonly, patients will have less exertional tolerance: more breathlessness than they used to experience when doing a more strenuous activity such as walking up a flight of stairs or carrying in groceries.
What are the negative effects of AFib?
First and foremost, it increases the risk of stroke by five times. It is also associated with increased risk of heart failure, increased risk of death, and probably, an increased risk of dementia.
How do you approach the treatment of AFib?
AFib is associated with a lot of other health issues, and without managing those effectively, we can’t manage the arrhythmia effectively. Those include: alcohol use, excessive weight, sleep apnea, activity level and hypertension control. If all of those aren’t controlled, despite our best attempts with medications or procedures, we can’t really get the arrhythmia controlled. There are also other issues such as valvular heart disease that can be an initiating or causal factor for atrial fibrillation. A lot of AFib clinics are designed to generate procedures, and the focus here at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH)’s Atherton Heart Failure and AFib Clinic isn’t to generate more procedures—our focus is to get the best outcomes we can for our patients. And that means getting them symptomatic relief, protecting them from strokes, and helping them live longer and better.
If you have been diagnosed with AFib or have questions about the clinic, call 847-618-2440. The NCH Atherton Heart Failure and AFib Clinic is located at 199 West Rand Road, Mount Prospect.