Dr. Randy Martin: Ladies, there is some fascinating new information that shows even if you consider yourself healthy, if you develop a form of an irregular heart beat called atrial fibrillation, it may mean that you have serious health risks. I spoke with Dr. Thomas Deering, the director of the arrhythmia center at Piedmont Hospital, to learn more about this condition.
Thomas Deering, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist at Piedmont Hospital, says that atrial fibrillation is an irregularity in the heart beat. “The normal heart beat is regular; it develops in the top of the heart and then goes down to the bottom.” Conversely, when a patient has atrial fibrillation, instead of beating in an organized fashion, the top of the heart beats chaotically.
“Essentially, there are two consequences of atrial fibrillation. Consequence number one is the clinical feelings that patients can experience. They could feel a racing heartbeat, dizzy, lightheaded, sometimes faint,” says Dr. Deering. “On the flip side, there are serious consequences with atrial fibrillation that can develop in some, but not all patients. They can develop congestive heart failure, stroke or other significant clinical issues.”
The good news, he says, is that the risk of dying from atrial fibrillation is very low. In this study which took place over a 15-year period in women whose average age was in their early 50s, the death rate was less than one-half of one percent.
“On the flip side of the coin, we have some potential serious issues. What this study showed, and it confirms previous research, is that this middle age population of women, if they develop atrial fibrillation, they had a higher overall mortality rate, higher mortality due to underlying heart disease and higher non-cardiac mortality. Atrial fibrillation in this study is associated with increased risk of dying.”
Another thing to note, he says, is that while the study implies that the women in the study were generally healthy, “if we look at the other diseases that these patients had, a significant number had hypertension, high cholesterol, underlying diabetes and an elevated body mass index, meaning that they were obese. So ostensibly, these were healthy people, but in reality when you get into the study in detail, you will see that the people who had more risk factors for heart problems were present in this study as well.”
What is the take-home message? “If there was one message I would want to take away from this particular study, it is that atrial fibrillation is benign and you can usually live a normal life. However, you need to be evaluated by a physician so you can get proper treatment and be assessed for associated risk factors.”
Dr. Randy Martin: Although the study suggests that women with irregular heartbeats have an increased risk of death, keep in mind that they also had a number of other health risks present. Be sure to discuss any symptoms with your physician so he or she can assess your risk factors and provide treatment to help prevent major health issues down the road.
More information on this study:
- The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed data on more than 34,000 middle-aged women from 1993 to 2010.
- Researchers found that compared with women who did not have the condition, those with atrial fibrillation had an 2.14 greater risk of all-cause mortality and a 4.18 times greater risk of dying from a cardiovascular cause.