Days into recovery from heart surgery, an odd feeling may hit your chest. Your once steady heartbeat — lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub — might suddenly switch to the chaotic rhythm of an elementary school band.
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So, is there a way to reduce your risk of developing AFib and the complications that can come with it? Let’s look at options with cardiothoracic surgeon Edward Soltesz, MD.
It’s believed that inflammation in the chest following heart surgery contributes to AFib within a week after the procedure, says Dr. Soltesz. But the exact trigger for AFib remains unclear.
AFib is basically a malfunction of your heart’s electrical system, which powers the steady contractions that pump blood through your body. Most people’s heart rates are between 60 and 100 beats per minute. But AFib brings a series of rapid, chaotic pulses that upset your heart’s rhythm and drive it higher or lower. When this happens, your heart doesn’t contract effectively — which means blood isn’t squeezed out properly.
Some cases of AFib can be mild enough to go unnoticed. More severe cases of AFib, however, can lead to fatigue, chest pains (angina) and what’s described as a “feeling of butterflies” in your chest.
“Prevent” may be too strong a word regarding your ability to ward off the development of AFib, but here are four steps you can take ahead of heart surgery to reduce your risk, according to Dr. Soltesz:
If you get AFib, various treatments and medications are available to help get your heart back into its proper rhythm.
Regaining control is important. Untreated AFib can increase your risk of blood clots and stroke. (Fast fact: AFib causes about 1 in 7 strokes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
“AFib can occur sporadically or persistently — and if it happens once, it’s more likely to happen again,” states Dr. Soltesz. “Talk to your physician before and after surgery about your potential risks and what you can do to decrease them.”