Surgical treatment options available for management of AFib include pacemakers, a Maze procedure, and left atrial appendage closure.
A pacemaker is a battery controlled device smaller than a deck of cards that your cardiologist or cardiac surgeon places underneath the skin close to the heart.
The device has tiny wires called electrodes that get attached to specific regions of the heart. These electrodes send out electrical signals to help return your heart to a regular rhythm.
The procedure requires a local anesthetic, so you are awake when your doctor is placing the device in your chest. A pacemaker is often the choice when medication, cardioversion, or catheter ablation have been unsuccessful in returning your AFib to a regular rhythm.
A pacemaker is permanent and is only removed to replace the battery or any of the electrodes that have deteriorated over time.
The Maze procedure is a choice for individuals who are undergoing open-heart surgery to correct other issues and people who fail to have success with other treatment methods
Your cardiac surgeon will make several small, precise cuts in the atria that will create scar tissue when they heal. The scar tissue stops the extra electrical activity that triggers AFib.
Maze procedures are quite successful for many people, but in some cases, the AFib returns. In these instances, ablation is often the next treatment choice.
Left Atrial Appendage Closure
A left atrial appendage closure is an option your physician can recommend if you are at high risk of developing blood clots.
The left atrial appendage is a tiny sac located in the left atrium. With AFib, a high percentage of blood clots form within this sac.
Your physician will insert a catheter into one of the veins in your leg and guide it up towards the right atrium. The physician creates a small hole between the right and left atrium so that the catheter can pass into the left atrium.
Your physician will use the catheter place a device on the left atrial appendage that closes it and keeps blood from flowing in.
Candidates for a left atrial appendage closure have a high risk of bleeding and blood clot formation and aren’t eligible for anticoagulants or have had no success with them.
Evaluating and Treating Underlying Conditions
Other health conditions that you have will often contribute to the development of AFib. Those conditions include:
- Chronic lung disease
- A family history of AFib
- High blood pressure
- Other forms of heart problems such as heart failure, heart attack, or heart valve disease
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid disease
Lifestyle Changes With AFib
Lifestyle changes are an essential aspect of successful long-term management of AFib. Learning and implementing heart-healthy choices will help you reduce the chances of experiencing an AFib episode.
You can decrease the problems connected with AFib if you follow these essential steps:
- Start and maintain a regular physical activity schedule. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise at least five days a week or 25 minutes of brisk aerobic activity three days per week.
The guidelines also recommend moderate to high-intensity strength training two or more days per week. If you’re concerned about raising heart rate too much with exertion, ask for guidance from your physician or an exercise professional with a certification in exercise prescription for people with cardiac issues.
- Develop and follow an eating plan that is low in salt, cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fats. Cut your consumption of canned, processed, and packaged foods as much as possible.
Eat a wide variety of fresh and frozen fruits, and vegetables Choose meets that are lean or extra lean and include weekly consumption of oily fish and other seafood.
Include nuts and seeds as an alternative protein source. Whole-grain products are an excellent source of fiber and complex carbohydrates to include in your diet.
If you consume dairy products, use low-fat or fat-free options. Keep your servings of fats and oils to a moderate amount.
If you are taking a blood thinner, it’s okay to eat green leafy vegetables as long as you do not increase your daily consumption. The American Heart Association’s website has a wide variety of helpful suggestions about heart-healthy nutrition.
- Controlling your cholesterol and reaching and maintaining a weight that is healthy for your body’s frame size corresponds to a heart-smart nutrition strategy. Find out from your physician what your cholesterol numbers and body weight should be.
- Keep your blood pressure well-controlled with regular physical activity, a low-salt diet, and take all your prescribed medications as directed by your physician.
- Cut back on or stop your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Drinking can lead to a bout of AFib and can also elevate your stroke risk.
The stimulant effects of caffeine can increase your chances of having it AFib episode.
- If you smoke, quitting is essential because the nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant that can precipitate an AFib event. Giving up tobacco also decreases your risk of stroke and coronary artery disease.
- Rest is a priority for AFib sufferers. Getting enough sleep is critical because excessive fatigue is an AFib trigger for many individuals.
Allow yourself enough time to get eight hours of quality sleep per night and follow good sleep hygiene practices such as establishing a nightly pre-sleep routine and getting up at the same time every day. Incorporating rest periods into your day will help you relax and relieve physical and psychological stress.
- Learn about and apply proven techniques to help you manage your stress. Each person’s life stressors are different, and you may find that spending regular time engaged in a hobby or joining a support group may work the best for you.
Also, don’t decline offers of support from others when you need it.
Is There a Cure for AFib?
Currently, there is no cure for AFib that will correct all types of AFib in all individuals. AFib is a dilemma to address because medical studies have yet to understand all its underlying causes and triggers.
Sometimes people confuse the resolution of the condition with the cure. Unfortunately, AFib can come back any time, and once an individual has experienced it, they are at a higher risk of recurrent episodes.
Because of our unique physiological differences, it is impossible to develop a single medication or procedure that will stop AFib for all people who suffer from it. The good news is that innovative advancements aimed at curing AFib are happening, and research into promising alternatives is ongoing.
If you suffer from AFib, the best course of action is to consult with your medical team and explore all of the available treatment options for the type you have. Your healthcare providers will assess all possible causes of your AFib and will design a care model that presents you with the best chance for successful management.
If one treatment choice is not adequate, it’s wise to continue to pursue other available options. Your team stays updated on all the latest developments in AFib care and will be familiar with anything new that may be beneficial for you.
Remember always to ask questions so you can build a strong partnership with your team for the best possible outcome.