AFib: Why You Shouldn't Ignore This Heart Problem

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

You suddenly feel a bit dizzy. Your heart races and you’re short of breath. Yet you haven’t run a marathon or seen the love of your life. You could be one of the more than 6.1 million Americans with a heart rhythm problem called AFib, short for atrial fibrillation.


AFib should never be ignored as it can be life-threatening and carries with it a five times greater risk for stroke, according to physicians at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. Additionally, it can cause blood clots, heart failure and other serious heart-related problems, as well as affect a patient’s quality of life.


Dr. Wilner Headshot

Bryan Wilner, M.D., electrophysiologist with

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute


While some people experience obvious symptoms, others do not. “Atrial fibrillation can feel very different for different people,” explains Bryan Wilner, M.D., an electrophysiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “Symptoms start to become prevalent when the ventricles beat very fast and can include fatigue, palpitations, an irregular heartbeat, dizziness, passing out, shortness of breath and chest pain.”


Electrophysiologists are specialists in the heart’s electrical system and along with a team of cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and other specialists at the Institute, they treat a variety of heart rhythm problems that impact the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body efficiently.


Are you at risk?

AFib Awareness Month, observed every September, is an opportunity to build awareness of this potentially deadly condition, and if it seems that you are hearing more about AFib these days, you’re probably right. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that by 2030, 12 million people in the U.S. will have AFib. Celebrities like Howie Mandel, Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Elton John have spoken out about their experiences with AFib. Today’s smartwatches, now widely available, have become better at detecting abnormal heart rhythms, leading more people to seek help and better monitor their health.


Risk factors for AFib include:

·       Aging – While anyone can develop AFib at any age, the majority of cases are diagnosed in those between the ages of 65 and 85

·       Obesity

·       Having hypertension

·       Being diabetic

·       Suffering from sleep apnea

·       Being diagnosed with heart failure, coronary artery disease, valve disease, hyperthyroidism or a lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease


To help lower your risk, stop smoking if you are a smoker, limit alcohol consumption, follow a heart-healthy diet, exercise and get screened for sleep apnea.


New research points to other possible contributors

“New research may suggest that a history of early or delayed menopause or irregular menstrual cycles may be a risk factor for the development of atrial fibrillation and this highlights the importance of considering the reproductive history of women when screening for atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Wilner says.


Physician-researchers are also further exploring the link between gum disease and AFib, believing that the systemic inflammation it can cause over time may lead to atrial fibrosis, which is known to increase the risk of AFib. There are also studies underway to see if a person’s height (particularly those over 5’ 7”) may contribute to the likelihood of developing AFib.


Treatment options

 “New research has shown that early treatment of atrial fibrillation is better than waiting,” Dr. Wilner says. “It is important to tailor a treatment plan for each individual patient.”


There is a wide range of treatment options, from medications and electrical cardioversion to minimally invasive catheter-based interventions and surgery. Catheter ablation involves threading a small catheter through a vein or artery to reach the affected area of the heart and then using the tip of the catheter to delivery energy to either burn or freeze the abnormal tissue where atrial fibrillation is thought to originate. “There are new, emerging ablation energy sources coming out in the United States in the next few years that will further help treat atrial fibrillation,” he adds.


Dr. Wilner advises speaking to your doctor about any symptoms you have but stresses a trip to the ER is warranted if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, or any signs of a stroke.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.