Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of the leading causes of stroke in the United States, and it is estimated that around 9% of Americans over the age of 65 are currently living with AFib. AFib can be treated in select people using a technique called AFib ablation, but this procedure isn't perfect: while nearly 20 million AFib ablations are performed each year, recurrent and persistent AFib remains common, even after surgery.
This may not seem encouraging, but it's essential to know that in some respects, the success of your AFib ablation procedure is within your control. While factors such as your doctor's level of experience can contribute to the success of your procedure, there are plenty of steps you can take to help increase the chances of having successful treatment without recurrent AFib.
At , Dr. Todd Hurst and his team help patients create a comprehensive, personalized roadmap to manage and treat their current AFib condition, introduce lifestyle changes, and take proactive measures to help them prevent future health risks related to AFib. The goal is to empower each patient with the knowledge and tools needed to take control of their health, prevent deadly conditions like AFib, and enhance their quality of life.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?
Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib, is a type of irregular heart rhythm where the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) beat too fast and out of sync with the lower chambers. When you have a normal heart rhythm, the electrical signals that cause your heart to beat trigger a regular pattern of contraction and relaxation. But when you have AFib, these signals don't flow normally between the atria and your lower chambers, causing an irregular heartbeat.
This can cause the blood to pool in the atria, making it easier for blood clots to form. If a blood clot were to travel through your bloodstream and block an artery in your lungs or brain, you could suffer a stroke. Additionally, AFib can cause other complications in the cardiovascular system related to blood flow, such as heart failure.
What is AFib Ablation?
AFib ablation, or catheter ablation, is generally accepted to be the standard AFib treatment. Here's how it works:
- Flexible tubes called catheters are inserted through an artery in your leg and threaded to the heart.
- The catheter is then used to deliver energy that creates scar tissue in small areas of heart tissue responsible for causing abnormal electrical signals.
- This will help to restore normal rhythm to your heartbeat, prevent blood clots, and reduce symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pain.
AFib ablation is relatively safe but, as with any medical procedure, there are some risks involved. These include bleeding or bruising at the insertion site, infection, and a small risk of stroke. Dr. Hurst discusses the risks of ablation in more detail .
Want a Successful AFib Ablation? Address the Underlying Causes First
There are steps you can take to increase the success of your AFib treatment, and the key is to address the underlying causes of atrial fibrillation before you have surgery. According to Dr. Hurst, “An analogy would be treating a heart attack with painkillers and not by opening the blocked artery, or taking your car to the mechanic when the engine light comes on, and all the mechanic does is turn the light off.”
Control High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the main causes of atrial fibrillation, as well as coronary artery disease. Many people don't realize that they have high blood pressure, and it's essential to monitor your blood pressure numbers before you undergo AFib ablation. High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart and can cause an irregular heartbeat.
Improve Your Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol is another major risk factor for atrial fibrillation, so it's important to make sure your cholesterol levels are within a healthy range before your ablation procedure. Eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat and exercising regularly can help you improve your cholesterol levels naturally.
Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is an essential part of overall health, and it also plays a role in the success of AFib ablation. During sleep, the body works to restore itself and repair damage caused by daily activities. Poor-quality sleep will prevent your body from getting the rest it needs, which can lead to a weakened immune system and an increased risk of AFib recurrence after surgery.
Additionally, sleep apnea can trigger AFib episodes, so it's important to find sleep apnea treatment before undergoing surgery for atrial fibrillation. If you think you may have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about ways to address it prior to AFib surgery.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Healthy lifestyle choices such as regular exercise and a balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight before your AFib ablation procedure. Being overweight or obese puts added stress on the heart, which can lead to an increased risk of recurrent atrial fibrillation after surgery.
Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol is another major risk factor for atrial fibrillation, and it's important to avoid excessive consumption before surgery. Studies have found that people who consume more than 7 drinks per week are at higher risk of recurrent atrial fibrillation after ablation, so it's essential to limit your alcohol intake in order to increase the chances of a successful procedure.
If You Smoke, Quit
Smoking is one of the most well-known risk factors for AFib, and it can also increase the chance of having recurrent atrial fibrillation after ablation. Quitting smoking is a major lifestyle change, but it's essential to your overall health and your chances of having successful atrial fibrillation treatment. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about treatments and strategies that can help.
Visit Your Top Preventive Cardiologist in Phoenix
A study on AFib called ARREST-AF found that people who managed the aforementioned risk factors lost 29 pounds and were able to lower their blood pressure, blood sugar, the number of medications they took, and their recurrent AFib. The results showed that 87% of these test subjects were likely to be free of AFib, while only 18% of those who did not treat underlying risk factors saw the same result.
At , we believe in data, and these numbers speak for themselves. With your in place, we can help you prevent AFib recurrence, reduce your risk of stroke, and optimize your Healthspan for a longer, healthier life.