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When Your Heart is Off-Beat: July 9, 2014

Not quite a ticking time bomb- but an estimated 2.7 million Americans are risking their health because of a faulty ticker.  An irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

“A-fib or atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm where the upper chambers of the heart actually quiver rather than contracting in an organized fashion,” says Dr. Richard Chazal, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

The heart being out of rhythm dramatically increases the risk of stroke - approximately five times higher than the general population.

“The problem with atrial fibrillation is really small blood clots can form inside the heart. If the blood clot leaves the heart, the first two blood vessels that exit from the heart actually go to the brain. And so there is a risk that a stroke could ensue,” says Dr. Chazal.

People with A-fib frequently feel a fluttering heart, without knowing the cause or seriousness. As with many health conditions, the risk of A-fib goes up with age. Fewer than one in every 100 people in their 50s has it, compared to 10 out of every 100 in their 80s. When combined with other conditions, the stroke risk increases.

“A number of other contributing factors age, the presence of diabetes, a prior stroke, high blood pressure; gender renders some risk. Actually women are slightly higher risk than men,” says Dr. Chazal.

The blood thinner warfarin is often prescribed. It reduces stroke risk by up to 65 percent, though patients must be closely monitored.

“The bottom line is, one must consult his or her physician to make certain there’s a careful analysis of the risk and the benefit in terms of therapy,” says Dr. Chazal.

So if your heart is off-beat, take it as a sign to tune into your health.