Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This blog was first published on December 31, 2017.
I read that 130,000 people Google the term “atrial fib or atrial fibrillation” each month. Who are they? Some may have felt irregular heartbeats themselves or heart palpitations or have family members that have been diagnosed with A-Fib. If it doesn’t happen again for a long time do they forget about it? Maybe. Could it have happened again and they didn’t feel it? How many times? They’ll never know.
I don’t have answers to those questions. I am not a doctor. I can only tell you what happened to me when I first felt an “irregular heartbeat” at age 43 in the early 1980s. I took my pulse and couldn’t get a steady beat, so I stopped taking my pulse. A few hours later it was regular. A few months later I had my annual checkup and the doctor told me that I was in atrial fib. “What’s that?” I asked. He said that it could cause a stroke. I had other unrelated health problems to worry about.
It happened again in my endocrinologist’s office. He made an appointment for me with a cardiologist. I was under her care for 20 years. It kept happening, more and more. Now I felt it.
Nothing could be done except to keep the blood thin to avoid a stroke and take anti-arrhythmia drugs that only partially worked. I was told that one doesn’t die from atrial fibrillation but that strokes can be fatal. Blood thinners were to be taken to keep the blood from clotting which can cause a stroke.
So, in the year 2000 when I had a heart attack, I was told that it was unrelated to my atrial fib. What’s more, further tests showed that I had previously had a smaller heart attack. I remembered it about 6 weeks earlier, intense pain in the middle of my chest, but it went away. I felt tired for days after. I didn’t call my doctor.
I had been in denial. I could have died. I didn’t know that living through a heart attack causes unrepairable damage to the heart muscle, diminishing its effectiveness. I had atrial fib and a damaged heart. New discoveries were made to help patients deal with A-Fib and even ablate it altogether. New devices were invented to control and eliminate A-Fib. More work is being done
I became an advocator and devoted myself to accepting and repairing my heart. I HAVE NOW REVERSED ALL HEART DAMAGE DONE BY THE HEART ATTACKS. Here’s how I did it:
- Paying attention to my medications, what they do, their side effects, compatibility with other drugs, asking questions and getting to know my pharmacists.
- Starting an exercise program that has become part of my life at least 3 times a week.
- Having a heart ablation procedure that eliminated electrical pathways causing A-Fib.
- Continuing a heart healthy diet that began even before atrial fib.
- Partnering and communicating with my doctors.
I had atrial fib for more than 35 years. Now I don’t, but that doesn’t mean it won’t appear again. It started out slowly for me. It got worse as time went on. I check my pulse twice every day. Get treatment. It’s so much easier than dealing with a stroke.