Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) – the Silent but Deadly Epidemic

By Dr Reginald Liew

Silent but Deadly Epidemic

AFib is the commonest heart rhythm problem but most people have not heard of the condition till they are diagnosed with it! The condition causes the top chambers of the heart (called the atria) to beat irregularly and out of rhythm, which can lead to symptoms such as palpitations, fatigue, breathlessness and light-headedness. Some people do not have any symptoms at all which is what makes the condition so dangerous. If untreated, AFib can greatly increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.

Risk factors for developing AFib include advancing age, other heart diseases such as heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes. A number of important lifestyle factors can also increase the risk of developing AFib, such as excessive alcohol intake, sleep-apnoea and obesity. Consequently, AFib has been dubbed the silent epidemic as the number of people getting AFib is increasing in line with the rise in these other related conditions worldwide. It is therefore important that people with symptoms or cardiac/ lifestyle risk factors for AFib have a medical check-up. The diagnosis and correct management of AFib can be life-saving.

Treatment of AFib include starting blood thinning medication in those at higher risk of developing blood clots and strokes and medication to control the arrhythmia. In some people who are not keen to take long-term medication or who develop side effects, a keyhole procedure called catheter ablation can be performed to effectively treat the condition in a large proportion of patients. Expert help and guidance is needed to manage this complex heart rhythm problem correctly.

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