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.