New research on irregular heartbeats

A long day at the office or on the plant floor might not seem like a big deal once in awhile. But if you consistently work long hours, you could be putting yourself at risk for AFib.

AFib is short for atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.

"AFib describes when the heart’s two upper chambers do not beat the way they should. Rather than beating in a normal pattern, they beat irregularly or too fast," explained Dr. Wilson Young, a Geisinger cardiac electrophysiologist.

A recent study on AFib compared nearly 85,500 men and women. Researchers categorized workers based on their work hours—people who worked a normal week of 35 to 40 hours compared to those who worked 55 hours or more.

The results suggested that men and women who worked 55 hours or more were 40 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation during the following ten years, even if they didn’t have other risk factors for AFib.

One type of AFib gives you symptoms that come and go, lasting for a few minutes to hours and then stopping on their own. But another type is more persistent and may require treatment to restore your heart rhythm.

AFib is a serious heart issue; in fact, having AFib may double your risk of a heart-related death. However, many people don’t know they have AFib.

"Some people continue to live active lives without knowing they have AFib," said Dr. Young. "But if AFib goes unnoticed and untreated, it can lead to heart failure, chronic fatigue or stroke."

During AFib, your heart does not pump blood properly and it can pool in your heart and form a clot. If a clot leaves your heart, it can travel to your brain and cause a stroke.

The most common symptom of AFib is a fluttering, pounding feeling in your chest, or racing or irregular heartbeat. But beyond that, people with AFib often experience fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, weakness or chest pain.

If you experience these symptoms, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and may recommend a test to measure your heart’s electrical activity, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a Holter monitor.

After diagnosis, your doctor may treat you with blood thinners to prevent blood clots from developing and medications to restore your heartbeat to its normal rhythm. Your doctor may also look for an underlying condition that may be causing AFib, such as a sleep problems, leaky heart valves or lung problems.

Depending on how long you’ve had AFib and your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medication to control your heart rhythm and your heart rate. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure to help your heart maintain a normal heart beat.

"AFib is a heart issue that needs to be taken seriously," explained Dr. Young. "If you exhibit the symptoms of AFib, you shouldn’t ignore them."

Wilson Young, MD, PhD, is a fellowship trained cardiac electrophysiologist and sees patients at Geisinger Scranton Cardiology. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Young or another Geisinger Cardiac Electrophysiologist, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

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