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Understanding AFib

As the most common type of heart arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition that is estimated to affect up to six million Americans. People with AFib experience irregular heartbeat, but what does that really mean?

Normally, your body will send an electrical signal from the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) to the lower chambers (the ventricles), causing blood to pump from the atria to the ventricles and then out to your body. For people with AFib, these electrical signals trigger erratically, causing the heart to quiver, or fibrillate. The many underlying causes of AFib can include age, other heart conditions such as high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, sleep apnea or even drinking alcohol or beverages with caffeine.

Blood thinners are a common treatment for AFib, and while they work well for many patients, for others they can cause unwanted side effects. Another option for AFib is a new technology, called the "WATCHMAN." This is a permanent, implantable device that closes off the heart's left atrial appendage, which is the source of more than 90 percent of stroke-causing blood clots in patients with AFib.

"Patients are usually referred for the WATCHMAN procedure because they need an alternative to blood thinners," says Dr. Tom Wallace with CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute. "When studied head-to­-head against Warfarin, the WATCHMAN lowered the overall risk of stroke the same as if a patient was taking a blood thinner."

Not every patient is a good candidate for the WATCHMAN procedure, but for those who are, it is a great solution.

Breathe Easy
Help your lungs relax with the latest treatments for pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension (PH), or high blood pressure in the lungs, is a chronic and life changing disease that can lead to heart failure on the right side of the heart if left untreated. This type of high blood pressure makes your lungs work harder and affects the blood vessels in the lungs, making the right side of the heart work harder.

SIGNS OF PH

PH affects people of all ages and races. It can be difficult to diagnose in a routine medical exam because the most common symptoms of PH, such as breathlessness, fatigue and dizziness, are also associated with many other conditions. It is also often found in association with other issues such as heart or lung disease.

If your doctor suspects that you have PH, he or she will want to review your medical and family history, perform a physical exam and one or more diagnostic tests. The World Health Organization has created five groups to represent the different types of PH, and your treatment may vary depending on which group you are in.

TREATING PH

Although there is currently no cure for PH, the condition can be managed with the help of your doctor. Some treatments your doctor may recommend include conventional medical therapies such as medications that can be taken orally, inhaled, or delivered intravenously or subcutaneously (under your skin).

REDUCE YOUR RISKS

PH is often associated with other heart and lung problems, so adding more healthy behaviors to your routine will not only reduce your risk of PH but other disorders as well. Here are four things you can do to stay free of PH: Quit smoking, eat healthy, stay active and get support for anxiety or stress.

Warning Signs of AFib:

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it might be time to ask your cardiologist about AFib treatment options:

> heart palpitations

> irregular or racing heartbeat

> shortness of breath

> fatigue or weakness

> discomfort or funny feeling in the chest