What you need to know about atrial fibrillation and stroke

(BPT) – Each year, millions of people in the U.S. have an irregular heartbeat, also known as an arrhythmia, according to the American Heart Association. Heart arrhythmias are common and can be harmless. However, certain arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib), may produce pooling and clotting of the blood which can then travel to other parts of the body, damaging the brain, lungs and other organs if not treated appropriately.

“Heart arrhythmias are difficult to diagnose and may lead to serious health complications such as stroke,” says Dr. Richard Chang, a cardiologist at John Muir Medical Center in Northern California. “A patient who is experiencing symptoms like palpitations or faintness should see a physician immediately. It is important to remember that prevention is key. Early detection of AFib is important to reduce unnecessary medical visits.”

According to a recent presentation at the Heart Rhythm Society’s Annual Scientific Sessions, the longer a person is in AFib, the higher their risk of experiencing a blood clot and subsequent stroke, if not taking blood thinner. To diagnose AFib, a physician will typically conduct a physical examination, including heart-monitoring tests. Traditional methods include an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the timing and duration of each electrical signal of the heart. Holter monitors are portable ECG devices that are generally prescribed for a day or two to record heart activity. However, Holter monitors are restricted in their ability to identify AFib because they are difficult to wear and capture only limited heartbeat information.

More advanced technologies, such as continuous cardiac monitors, provide long-term recording and storage of the heart’s electrical activity. This is essential for detecting and documenting potential AFib, which can sometimes occur infrequently and without symptoms. These devices, such as the Zio system by iRhythm, records and stores beat-to-beat heart rhythm data in its entirety, including AFib burden, which can provide a more complete picture to a health care provider. Analysis of the beat-to-beat data allows for a faster, more accurate diagnosis by physicians and treatment for the patient. Additionally, the high diagnostic yield potentially eliminates the need for further testing, leading to reduced health care costs.

September is AFib Awareness Month. Visit www.irhythmtech.com today to learn more about the symptoms and risks of AFib and how continuous cardiac monitoring can help improve how heart arrhythmias are diagnosed and managed.

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