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A-Fib & Exercise

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on July 10, 2017.


After 2 heart attacks, 3 pacemakers, 4 husbands and 35 years of atrial fibrillation, I realized that the best medication is exercise.

Move the body! I grew up in the forties and fifties when playing outdoors was as important as eating and was more important than homework. Even in winter we played outdoors…sports and recess in school, sledding and snowball fights, even shoveling snow. In summer we played out of doors with our friends and explored everything, sometimes we played outside all day and into evening when our parents yelled at the kitchen door that it was time to come in for dinner. We were exhausted at night and slept well.

On rainy days we put on shows in the empty garage where our one car was kept and Dad had it at work. Or we played paper dolls in the house or on the porch. On hot summer days a parent would drop us off at the public swimming pool and we would stay in the water all afternoon between scheduled rest periods.

It was natural to walk and run wherever we were going, even to the bus stop. Sometimes we rode our bikes. That was until I had a car at age 16.

I started exercise walking in my forties getting up to 4 miles almost every day. It took an hour. I loved it…walking outside or on a treadmill. My HDL was over 50… a decent number for the high density lipoproteins. In 1980 I was diagnosed with atrial fib. That’s when I noticed it though it probably occurred sporadically for years before I felt it. I still walked on days it didn’t give me shortness of breath or tire me out.

In 2000 I had 2 heart attacks. The left anterior descending coronary artery was 50% blocked. The nickname for that artery is “the widow maker.” A few weeks later I had a robotic bypass. A year after that I married Ed. Two years after that I retired from my job. Exercise walking had given me lower body strength, but my upper body was weak.

READ NEXT WEEK’S BLOG TO FIND OUT HOW I REVERSED ALL DAMAGE FROM 2 HEART ATTACKS, ENDED ATRIAL FIB, AND NOW AT ALMOST 80 YEARS OLD I CAN DO 100 PUSH UPS, PLANKS, WEIGHTS, SPINNING BIKE AND MUCH MORE.  

Read more in my recent memoir: IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


A-Fib and Pacemakers – Part 2

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on August 6, 2017.


Atrial fib is responsible for all 3 of my pacemakers. Each year, approximately 200,000 pacemakers are implanted in the U.S. in patients who derive a clear benefit from pacing therapy, according to the American College of Cardiology.

My first pacemaker was an emergency procedure because my heart stopped for several seconds after hip replacement surgery. Just before, a temporary pacemaker was installed to keep my heart rate steady during surgery. After the temporary pacemaker was removed I went into atrial fib. I awoke in ICU. The next day pacemaker # 1 was installed and my medical history changed…for the better.

  • My first pacemaker procedure was the longest because the 2 wires to connect the device to the heart had to be inserted, one in the right atrium and one in the right ventricle. A small incision was made just under the skin in the upper left chest to insert the pacemaker, about the size of a quarter. A technician from the device company (St. Jude) is always in the O.R. to hook up the wires to get it going. Most patients go home the same day but I was still recovering from hip surgery. Read details in Chapter 23 of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

 

  • Eight years later the 2nd pacemaker was installed. The whole device was changed, not just battery. The original wires connected the new device. Updates occur as pacemakers improve and accomplish more. This 2nd device was able to store heart data. Battery life and A-Fib activity were checked every couple of months by phone or in the clinic for a more thorough analysis

 

  • Implantation of the 3rd pacemaker came 9 years later. Outpatient procedure took 3 hours including prep and recovery time. The original wires are still being used. Battery and A-Fib information is now recorded at a data center and checked through a wireless monitor the size of a 5 x 7 picture frame 6 feet from my bed. A small green light signals that all is well. If not, the light flashes and changes color. There’s a phone number in case I have questions.

More advanced pacemakers are already available, including wireless pacemakers and some that allow patients to have safe MRI tests. Without the pacemaker my heart rate is so low in the atrium that my pacemaker must work to pace me 100% of the time.

It’s probably keeping me alive. If it could make dinner, life would be perfect!

Learn more from my memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


A-Fib and Pacemakers

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on July 30, 2017.


Early in my battle with atrial fib my heartrate could go as high as 200 sporadic beats per minute. Doctors tried anti-arrhythmia drugs, none of which worked. Some caused more AFib, some had side effects causing joint pain or flu-like symptoms. My only protection against stroke was the blood thinner warfarin.

I asked my electrophysiologist, “Why not a pacemaker? Wouldn’t that make the rapid heartbeat slow down and regulate the heart?”

A pacemaker only adjusts the heart rate when it’s too slow, not when it is too fast. Most people don’t know that. I didn’t.

Two adjustments occurred to previous statements:

  • When an anti-arrhythmia drug was found to work for me, it did lower my heartrate, not only when I was experiencing atrial fib, but all of the time. So, my resting rate went from 52 beats per minute to 40. I was tired most of the time, but probably safer.
  • The pacemaker can go faster than its setting rate during exercise. My pacemaker is set at a resting rate of 60 beats per minute. It never goes lower. Since the cardiac ablation my heart rate only goes higher as I increase my level of activity. After a few minutes on the treadmill or the bike, it’s likely to go up to 100 steady beats until the exercise ends and my pulse goes back to a resting rate. It’s the amazing technology of today’s pacemakers.

Read next week’s blog for more about pacemakers and how I came to have 3 of them.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


ATRIAL FIB: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT – PART 2

This post first published on October 8, 2017. Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


I had a heart attack while giving a speech about heart healthy foods to 25 men and women in the food industry. I was 63 with an active history of atrial fib, but was assured by doctors treating me that the heart attack and my atrial fib had nothing to do with each other.

That was the year 2000. Seventeen years later it has been proven that the 2 are related. So are many other human ailments. Among them are diabetes and diverticulosis both of which are related to heart problems of all kinds and to what foods we put into our bodies.

Though never having had diabetes, I have suffered this past year from bouts of diverticulitis. Loosely translated, it is the active form of a chronic condition called diverticulosis which forms bulging pockets in the digestive tract. It assures me that I must now be doubly careful so that what I eat, how much I eat and when I eat will allow me to sleep without discomfort, heart burn or intestinal spasms.

What is a heart healthy diet? It varies as we find out more information about new discoveries and genetics. For me it’s a combination of Weight Watchers™ and the Mediterranean Diet of eating.

Make sure that portion control is key and that artificial ingredients are none or almost none. Read labels. Use small plates. Take only one portion servings at each meal. Eat slowly putting your fork down between bites. Chew, don’t swallow food whole. Pay attention to what and how you are eating. Stop before you get full. The head doesn’t know the stomach is full for 20 minutes. You won’t know you’ve overeaten until after you’ve overeaten. Then, it’s too late.

I am active in several heart organizations, some local, some national and some related to The Ross Heart Hospital at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. HEALING HEARTS OF CENTRAL OHIO (www.healingheartscentralohio.org) meets monthly and features speakers on all phases of heart issues. Come join us if you are in the Central Ohio area.

Check out more info IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

 

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes

ATRIAL FIB: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

This post first published on October 2, 2017. Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


Mother used to say, “You are what you eat.” She didn’t know that it was a direct quote from Frenchman Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826. Literally translated it says, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”

Mother’s quote was in the 1940s and 50s when our family sat down together at the kitchen table for a meal that was prepared by my mother. This was typical at that time, at least in the small town where I grew up. Eating habits were established, portions were smaller and no meal was complete unless it included a salad with raw veggies, an entrée with meat, chicken or fish, a potato, rice or pasta and a cooked vegetable canned or fresh.  This was before frozen foods were readily available.

Dessert may have been served, but it wasn’t a big deal. Mother didn’t bake a lot, so we had canned fruit cocktail and store-bought cookies. We drank water with the meal except in summer when we made lemonade by squeezing lemons and an orange, water, sugar, ice and mint sprigs from our yard.

We were healthy possibly because most of what we ate was fresh and portions were smaller than today and because very few chemicals were added for flavor and preserving.

I was on my way to a healthy lifestyle of eating but along the way things changed for all of us.

Early in my 35 year affliction with atrial fib when it began to interfere with my lifestyle in the 1980s, I realized that I had absolutely no control over when AF came or left. I could wake in the morning with it or start the weird heart rhythm in the middle of doing something or nothing at all.

I had no idea how long it would last or why. As time went on I could tell I was in A-fib right away. Heart palpitations and a feeling of tiredness and gloom settled in me. My electrophysiologist said that atrial fib begets atrial fib.

Was it something I ate or something I didn’t eat? I thought I knew a lot about nutrition. I followed what was then a heart healthy diet.

I remembered from my childhood and current job that what food and drink we put into our bodies has a lot to do with how we feel and what chronic problems may occur. This was about the time that cholesterol and fat were in everyone’s vocabulary to avoid. I was employed as a sales manager for a food company marketing a line of Weight Watchers dairy items, later doing the same for the Smart Balance line.

I lectured all over the country about good fats, low fats, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, saturated fats, poly unsaturated fats and ratios between the two. Hence, the Smart Balance products became quite popular.

My atrial fib was coming more often. I decided to eliminate some foods from my diet. No more steak or beef of any kind. More vegetables. Less sugar. Reading food labels, I cut out foods containing ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce. Nothing helped.

I asked my cardiologist about food and atrial fib. She told me to cut out caffeine and alcohol. I did, but that wasn’t easy. Ed and I had a glass of wine or a drink almost every night with dinner. I stopped drinking totally. Still the A-fib came. I tested it: Occasionally I had a glass of wine and nothing happened, but the next time I had one, the atrial fib started.

This is Part 1. Atrial Fib…You Are What You Eat” will continue in next week’s blog.

Meanwhile, read more IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes

Pacemakers … Not Just For Atrial Fib

This post first published on June 3, 2018. Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


At age 61 my first pacemaker was inserted. I had been an A-Fib patient for almost 20 years before my heart stopped for several seconds during a hip replacement surgery. I woke up from that surgery in the hospital’s ICU (intensive care unit) surrounded by my orthopedic surgeon, an electrophysiologist, nurses, my husband and children. It was immediately suggested that I have a pacemaker inserted the next day. I could have had a stroke, or even died. For more details you can read about it in my memoir, IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

Leaving the hospital with a new hip and a pacemaker set at 60 beats per minute, I decided that new body parts were the way to go. The hip is still in place and working great. Pacemaker batteries last about 10 years.  Usually replaced by a whole new device, the replacement pacemaker is often attached to the same wires. I have since had 2 replacement pacemakers, each representing a new level of technology. My 3rd pacemaker is using the original wires that were attached to my heart in 1999.

At almost 81, I hear more and more about aging adults getting pacemakers at 75. In an article by Sari Harrar In the April/May 2018 issue of AARP The Magazine about general health, it is explained that the number of “pacemaker” natural cells in the heart is declining at 70 plus and at that age there may be 90% fewer than you had in your youth. Approximately 225,000 people per year in the U. S. have pacemakers implanted. Only some of them are atrial fib patients.

A pacemaker battery can keep you going for decades, according to this article in AARP The Magazine. My life has been easier and full with the small device. Many of my friends now have a pacemaker. Often the insertion procedure is outpatient.

With each new pacemaker the technological advances have enabled greater capability. Early pacemakers were checked every 3 months by telephone transmission. My 3rd one is checked by a transmitter that works on the Wi-Fi in my home. The transmitter, that looks like a small speaker, sits about 6 feet from my bed. It records heart activity in its internal memory and communicates to a central data system. Automatic checks have shown no disturbances at all.

My heart rate without the pacemaker is as low as 30 beats per minute. The pacemaker keeps on tickin’ at 60 beats per minute and is keeping me alive. Now, if it could only cook dinner, it would be perfect.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


Atrial Fib … Stress Related, or Not?

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


This is the second in a series of blogs by guest blogger Lisa Eliason. She, like me, has had many health issues most or all of which are managed or, in some cases, cured. Read about them and be inspired:

In 2012, I was a physical wreck.  My sinuses were constantly congested, I woke at night gasping for breath, I was overweight, and suffered a bout of shingles.  At one point, I could barely walk due to what I later learned to be osteoarthritis in my hip.

I was working full time and doing a lot of volunteer work.   My husband was working full time and travelling the world for a national organization of which he was the president.   He was never home.  The home chores fell on me and it was during the winter and during one particular ice storm the heart arrhythmia hit.  My doctor told me it was stress.

I knew what stress could do to my body. Back in the 1980s I was teaching in a program that was about to be cut at any time.  Every Sunday night I experienced bouts of diarrhea thinking this was the week.  I would go in on Monday and the diarrhea would clear up.

I decided to take care of the sinus issues first and learned I had sleep apnea.  During sinus surgery my heart went out of rhythm and I awoke to doctors and nurses dashing about.  The surgery was aborted but my Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) was diagnosed.

The Afib was definitely the worst of the health ailments.   I dealt with it through medication and finally heart ablation surgery.  To this day, I wish I had bypassed the medication and went right to the ablation.  The medication would cause my heart to slow to 30 beats a minute at night and I was sure I was going to die in my sleep.

I changed my diet to an anti-inflammatory diet, lost weight, exercised, and recently had hip replacement surgery.  The sleep apnea evidenced by the nighttime gasping stopped when I lost weight.  I am now back to walking and riding an exercise bike.

How did I get to where I am today?   Although the health issues progressed rapidly, it was a seven year process to return to good health.   I read blogs from people who experienced similar problems, read books like Rosalie Ungar’s In a Heartbeat, and remembered the words of Henry David Thoreau I taught my students back in the 1980s, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Every day I make a conscious effort to simplify my life whether it is by discarding material items from my life thereby becoming a minimalist or discarding unhelpful thoughts from my head.  I don’t take on more that I can manage.   I don’t watch mainstream TV.  Sure I keep up on the national news, but I don’t spend my day consumed with news reports.   I now recognize that stress can be a killer.  I don’t know that stress caused my heart arrhythmia and other health ailments but am pretty sure it did contribute.

Thank you, Lisa for your openness in revealing health issues related to atrial fib. In next week’s blog I will report on my husband Ed’s heart ablation that takes place in a few days. It has been exactly 12 years since my first and only ablation. I have been atrial fib free since. Even so, much research and changes have taken place to make atrial fibrillation more treatable.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


Atrial Fib & Joint Replacement Surgeries

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


This week’s blog is written by guest blogger Lisa Eliason. Her journey is similar to my almost 40 years of life with atrial fibrillation as well as related and unrelated health issues.


Eight weeks ago, at age sixty-four, I had a total hip replacement.  Every day last week I walked 10,000 steps and am now riding an exercise bike. I feel great.   The journey here has been long and arduous and started almost seven years ago.

In 2012, at age fifty eight, I was a physical wreck.   I was overweight.  I was suffering from sinus issues and constantly congested.  I would awake at night gasping for breath.   I tried a yoga class to lose weight but just ended up hurting myself.  My doctor said I pulled my groin muscles and started me on a regime of physical therapy.  That didn’t help.  My aunt, who I mirror health wise, believed the pain in my groin to be arthritis in my hips.   She had hip replacement surgery at just about the age I was then and said her pain started in her groin.   I didn’t think that it was possible, so I ignored her advice.

For me, the sinus issue seemed to be the first issue to tackle.  I decided to undergo sinus surgery.   When the surgeon put me under, I had my first major episode of Atrial Fibrillation (Afib).  I had been having minor episodes for months that my doctor said was “nerves.”   The surgery was stopped and I didn’t go back.  After that the race was on, literally.   I had at least one Afib episode every day.   Sometimes I would also have one at night and fall asleep praying that I would awake the next morning.   My mother died at forty-one and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t live much longer.  My aunt, who had also had Afib and ablation surgery, assured me I wasn’t going to die from the Afib.

I saw my aunt’s electrophysiologist for the Afib, tried medication and then decided on heart ablation surgery.   When the electrophysiologist put me under for the heart ablation he didn’t need to stimulate my heart, I went into Afib.

The surgery was a success.   I haven’t had any episodes of Afib since.   I changed my diet, lost weight and started walking.   My sinuses cleared up, but the pain in my groin continued.   I had osteopathic manipulation and saw a chiropractor.   No medical professional suggested a problem with my hips.  My aunt’s words came back to me and during one session with the osteopathic manipulator, I asked if I could have structural problems in my hips.  He stopped the manipulation and ordered x-rays.  Sure enough, I had severe osteoarthritis in my left and moderate in my right.  I needed a total hip replacement.

I was afraid of having a hip replacement.  The two prior times when I went under for surgery, I went into Afib.   So for a year and a half, I tried injections and medication.  In her book, In a Heartbeat, my aunt Rosalie Ungar describes how her heart stopped during hip replacement surgery and she had a pacemaker inserted.   I decided to have the hip replacement but not in our town that has quite capable orthopedic surgeons.  I decided to go to the hospital where my ablation had been performed.  All of my medical records were there and just in case something went wrong, the doctors would know what to do.

So here I am today.   I am not saying this will be my last health issue but reading blogs like this and Rosalie Ungar’s book, In a Heartbeat, have helped me on my health journey.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


Atrial Fib & Blood Thinners … The New Generation

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


As promised in last week’s blog, expanded information on blood thinners will include my experiences with the new generation of blood thinning anticoagulants. All of this information and more can be found in my memoir: IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

In 2007 I had an ablation to get rid of the 5 electrical pathways causing my atrial fibrillation. In 1980 when I felt A-fib for the first time, I didn’t know what it was and proceeded to ignore it as long as I could. I hoped that it would get better or go away totally. It didn’t. Though the bouts I felt were sporadic, eventually they became longer and stronger. My electrophysiologist told me that atrial fib begets atrial fib.

A stroke was in my future. Protection from a stroke was the blood thinner, warfarin, to keep from forming a clot, and an anti-arrhythmia, amiodarone, to keep the heart in rhythm. The pacemaker kept my heart rhythm from going too low. It was not effective if I went into atrial fib rhythm over 180 beats per minute. My hopes relied on a new procedure called an ablation.

The ablation was a success…mostly. Only 4 of the 5 electrical pathways could be ablated. The 5th one was too close to the esophagus and there was a danger of damage occurring if the procedure went that close (with the technology available in 2007).

I was feeling good for the first time in years. My doctor kept me on a lesser dose of warfarin for another year, a good call. Six months after the ablation, the 5th electrical pathway, close to the esophagus, showed up during a routine pacemaker check. It was causing havoc showing 500 short episodes of atrial fibrillation.

I was put on a different anti-arrhythmia, sotalol. It worked. It’s still working. I haven’t been in A-fib for 11 years. Pacemaker checks would report if I had been.

Life was great. During my yearly checkup with the electrophysiologist in 2013, he announced that I should go back on a blood thinner.

“Why?” I asked.

“For protection. We go by a point system, 4 points and more tell us you should be on a blood thinner:

  • You are over 75, 1 point.
  • You are a woman, 2 points.”
  • I reminded him that was only 3 points and since I hadn’t had atrial fib for 12 years I felt safe from a stroke.

“Besides,” I said, “I exercise, eat a healthy diet, the sotalol agrees with me, I‘ve reversed heart muscle damage from heart attacks, my EKG, pacemaker checks and stress test results perfect and my numbers are good—HDL, LDL and more. I don’t want to take a blood thinner! Besides so much advancement has been made on strokes, if patients get to the hospital within an hour or two, the stroke could do less damage than a blood thinner.”

We compromised: I carry an undated prescription in my wallet for a new generation blood thinner, apixaban, brand name Eloquis, if I go into A-fib for more than 6 hours. He updates it every year. It’s been 6 years.

The new generational blood thinners aren’t old enough to have generic replacements and they are expensive. Even with insurance, co-pays can be as high as $400 per month. Manufacturers will offer assistance for low income patients and patients on Medicare. It takes some searching, but can be worth it.

My Mantra is to be your own advocate. Know your own body. Make your own educated medical decisions based on what you’ve studied. Ask questions. Don’t stick your head in the sand. Beware of a natural decision to delay treatment and pretend, as one of my friends did, that the diagnosis can be ignored. We’ve all done that and sometimes it can be deadly. Establish a working relationship with your doctor(s). If you have a communication problem with them, discuss it with them.

The question I get most from readers is about what to do if you and your doctor don’t agree—to be covered in a future blog.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book. Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes. Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!

In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes In a Heartbeat on iTunes

Atrial Fib & Blood Thinners

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


Treatment for patients with atrial fibrillation usually begins with a blood thinner.

If the patient feels A-fib, it can be in the form of anxiety, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or none of these. For me, I was taking my pulse after a workout in an exercise class. When I found the heart rhythm at the inside of the right wrist just under my hand, it felt like a fluttering bird. Then there was a pause of nothing at all. I pulled my hand away from my wrist. I decided to forget about it. That was 1980.

Two years later during a routine exam with an endocrinologist for a thyroid problem, it happened again. The doctor immediately sent me to a cardiologist. I was very tired and didn’t feel good. She told me that I was in atrial fibrillation and could have a stroke.

That was the beginning of a long journey. Read more about it in my memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

In the 1980s and until not long ago, warfarin was the only blood thinner used for heart arrhythmia problems. Coumadin, an anticoagulant, is the brand name for the drug warfarin. It must be regulated and checked every week or 2 with a lab blood test measuring the patient’s INR. Too much or too little can be dangerous. Levels of 2.0 to 3.0 INR are preferred for patients taking Coumadin. Side effects can vary with diet, other meds, cuts, bruises and more.  I took that drug for 12 years.

Warfarin, the generic name for Coumadin, is also the key ingredient in rat poison. It has been since before it was used as a medication, even during the 12 years I was taking it.

My husband Ed, who reads a novel a week, loves mysteries. Usually in a mystery, the storyline includes a murder. In one of the recent novels, he read that the murder weapon was warfarin. The victim’s food was laced with large quantities of the blood thinner to induce bleeding which caused death. In the story, the mysterious cause of death was found during the autopsy. The murderer was exposed when large quantities of the poison were found in her possession.

A variety of blood thinners are now on the market. It’s only been a few years since they’ve advanced but they have changed the way atrial fib is treated and managed. If you watch TV, you’ve probably seen ads for some of the other brands. They all have side effects…some very few, others more severe. Costs and co-pays vary as do directions for starting and stopping their use.

Next week’s blog will include more information about the new generation of blood thinners and my experience with them. Meanwhile check out my book IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib now on audio book and all forms of digital and through Amazon.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes