By Dr Reginald Liew
September is National Atrial fibrillation awareness month, which gives us a good opportunity to remind the public of the dangers related to this very common arrhythmia. AFib can affect people of all ages, although it is more common in older people above the age of 60. It can present in a variety of different ways including palpitations (an unusual awareness of one’s heartbeat), breathlessness, light-headedness, tiredness and chest discomfort. However, some people may not have any symptoms at all and only told they have AFib at a routine medical check-up. This is what makes the condition so dangerous as it can be hard to diagnose and occur intermittently.
AFib causes the top chambers of the heart (called the atria) to beat irregularly and out of rhythm- as a result, the chambers do not empty blood fully which can result in blood clots forming inside the atria- in turn, these blood clots can leave the heart and travel to the brain, increasing the risk of getting a stroke by up to 5x. Older patients above the age of 65 and those with other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure are at higher risk of getting a stroke.
The good news is that if AFib is correctly diagnosed and treated with appropriate blood thinning medication, the risk of stroke can be greatly reduced. So, it’s very important and potentially life-saving for people with any symptoms suggestive of AFib or risk factors for AFib to get proper medical assessment and treatment.