Heart and Vascular

Atrial fibrillation or “afib,” is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure and a shortened life span.

On the east coast, and in eastern North Carolina specifically, we frequently see many of the risk factors that can cause afib.

Dr. Adam Clark, cardiologist and director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Lab at ECU Health Medical Center (VMC), discussed this prevalent issue in a recent radio interview.

He said the most potent and unchangeable risk factor for afib is age. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, sleep apnea, underlying heart disease, and other chronic conditions including thyroid problems, diabetes and asthma. The most important modifiable risk factor for afib is obesity and sleep apnea.

“Afib increases the risk of hospitalization, death and heart failure,” Dr. Clark said. “If the heart rate is not controlled, it can lead to heart failure. It increases the risk of stroke and causes one in seven strokes and increases your stroke risk by four to five times.”

Dr. Clark said the entire east coast and the Midwest have the highest rates of afib in the country and the world. In eastern North Carolina, we are at particular risk for a number of reasons, including a population with higher rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

Knowing the signs of afib is important to identifying the disease as early as possible.

“The most common signs of afib are an irregular heartbeat, palpitations of the heart, lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain,” Dr. Clark said.

Dr. Clark said the main test to identify afib is a simple AKG or Electrocardiogram which your primary care provider can take. There are wearable and implantable monitors that can monitor your heartbeat for years at a time as well. Screenings for afib often are what he calls “opportunistic screening.”

“This means when you go in for your regular check with your primary care physician, they feel your pulse and listen to your heart,” Dr. Clark said. “If it’s irregular, they’ll get an EKG. This should be done in every patient over 65.”

Dr. Clark said limiting your risk factors is the most important thing you can do to avoid afib, including blood pressure control, staying active, managing sleep apnea and limiting alcohol intake. He added that half of afib is asymptomatic and even without feeling it, your stroke risk can be significantly increased. Talk to your doctor about screening for afib.

VMC joins TAKEHeart program to expand access to cardiac rehabilitation services

VMC is participating in TAKEHeart, a national initiative funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, to make a positive impact on the lives of patients by encouraging greater participation in cardiac rehabilitation. The initiative will help easily connect patients with cardiac rehabilitations services to improve their heart health and reduce the risk of future heart issues. As a TAKEHeart partner, VMC cardiac and pulmonary team members will receive advanced training, coaching and technical support as well as shared learning about cardiac rehabilitation best practices.

“Patients are more likely to survive an acute heart episode when they engage in cardiac rehabilitation,” said Stacey Greenway, director of cardiovascular disease management programs at VMC. “We know that only a small percentage of patients complete cardiac rehabilitation. Participating in TAKEHeart means bringing best practices and strategies in cardiac rehabilitation to Vidant and eastern North Carolina to improve outcomes for patients suffering from a cardiac episode.”

Read more about the TakeHEART program.

Visit the Heart & Vascular Care page to learn more about the programs and services Vidant offers.