Dr. Jorge Diaz, Cardiologist, Electrophysiologist
Can an atrial fibrillation ablation improve quality of life?
Yes. An atrial fibrillation ablation is a procedure used to treat an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) and it may be used if medications or other interventions to control an irregular heart rhythm do not work. Without treatment, atrial fibrillation tends to get worse over time. The best part is seeing improved outcomes with my patients’ experiencing less fatigue and shortness of breath. Some patients say they feel so much better overall within a week, and for some, it may be a little longer. They have more energy, fewer palpitations, they’re able to walk better and they’re happy to get rid of a lot of medications that they were taking before.
I had a patient, a doctor, who suffered with atrial fibrillation for 16 years until he came to see me about having an ablation procedure. He’s very vocal about how great he feels now since the procedure. He is able to run again, goes to the gym and is able to do all the things he wasn’t able to do before. His quality of life is so much better, and he says he wished he had known about having an ablation sooner than going through years with atrial fibrillation.
An atrial fibrillation ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that is used to destroy small areas of tissues in the heart that may be causing heart rhythm problems. There are a lot of misconceptions, such as a person with atrial fibrillation can never get better or that many people will require three or four procedures, all which are not true. You can cure it and have good quality of life. The biggest misconception is people think they will be in the hospital for a long period of time after an ablation, but they go home the next day and can resume physical activity in 72 hours. They will be encouraged to follow doctor’s orders and live a healthy lifestyle. Also, patients treated for sleep apnea after an ablation do way better than patients who do not get treated for it.
There is an atrial fibrillation epidemic right now. We can say between 6 and 12 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, and that number is expected to double by 2050. Atrial fibrillation is the leading cause of strokes in this country, which can be attributed to many factors: the aging population, and if a person has hypertension, sleep apnea, obesity, congestive heart failure or heart disease in general.
Out of 100 patients, about 50 percent have no symptoms. People can have heart disease that is unrecognized until later when they have a catastrophic event. Many people do not know they have atrial fibrillation until going into a stroke. For years, they may not know they had high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
We are now seeing younger individuals with atrial fibrillation, and many of them have risk factors that can be congenital, hereditary, lifestyle issues or even from being very involved in endurance sports. I’ve seen atrial fibrillations in triathletes, marathon runners, the high-endurance type of athletes. Even though exercise is good, overdoing it has been shown to be counterproductive, especially for those who turn 40 and want to be an ironman. Something like a 5K run is OK to do. I go to the gym regularly and I was cycling 50 miles on my bike, but I have dialed it down a bit in my life. I try to stay healthy, and I believe exercise is beneficial not just physically but emotionally and mentally to disconnect from the outside world. Exercise is a good way to do it.
Everyone should see a doctor for a physical examination once or twice a year, and if you have symptoms or risk factors for heart disease, please express that to your doctor. It’s recommended to see a cardiologist or electrophysiologist for atrial fibrillation. Nowadays, there are all these gadgets and devices that are able to track the heart rate and arrhythmia, and there are many ways to treat atrial fibrillation. One way is with blood thinners to prevent strokes, but it depends on the patient’s risk factors. Some medications can control atrial fibrillation, but with time, these can become less effective.
I have been at AdventHealth Waterman since 2008 and I’m constantly keeping abreast of the changes in this field. I love the patient-centered approach to cure and help patients, not only the physical, but the emotional and spiritual aspect of their healing, too. Patients tell me I am direct, concise and they trust me with their care.
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