September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. Lots of folks don’t know too much about the condition, which is an irregular heart beat that can lead to serious complications such as dementia, heart failure, stroke or even death. To help spread the word, StopAfib.org presents these 10 afib facts and figures that will probably surprise even some healthcare professionals:
- Afib affects lots of people. Currently up to 5.1 million people are affected by afib. And that’s just in America. By 2050, the number of people in the United States with afib may increase to as much as 15.9 million. About 350,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S. are attributed to afib. In addition, people over the age of 40 have a one in four chance of developing afib in their lifetime.
- Afib is a leading cause of strokes. Nearly 35 percent of all afib patients will have a stroke at some time. In addition to leaving sufferers feeling weak, tired or even incapacitated, afib can allow blood to pool in the atria, creating blood clots, which may move throughout the body, causing a stroke. To make matters worse, afib strokes are fatal nearly three times as often as other strokes within the first 30 days. And according to a recent American Heart Association survey, only half of afib patients understand that they have an increased risk of stroke.
- The U.S. Congress recognizes the need for more afib awareness. StopAfib.org along with several other professional and patient organizations asked Congress to make September Afib Month. And on September 11, 2009, the U.S. Senate declared it National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month.
- Barry Manilow has afib. Recently, Manilow spoke to Congress about afib, urging the House of Representatives to pass House Resolution 295, which seeks to raise the priority of afib in the existing research and education funding allocation process. The resolution does not seek any new funding. Other celebs with afib include NBA legend Jerry West and Helmut Huber, the husband of daytime TV star Susan Lucci.
- Healthcare professionals often minimize the impact of afib on patients. According to recent research in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, “Compared with coronary artery disease and heart failure, afib is not typically seen by clinicians as a complex cardiac condition that adversely affects quality of life. Therefore, clinicians may minimize the significance of afib to the patient and may fail to provide the level of support and information needed for self-management of recurrent symptomatic afib.”
- Afib patients may go untreated. Afib can fly under the radar as some patients don't have symptoms and some may only have symptoms once in a while. Thus, patients may go for a year or two undiagnosed, and sometimes not be diagnosed until after they have a stroke or two. Because some health care professionals perceive that afib doesn’t affect patients’ everyday lives, a common approach is to just allow patients to live with the condition. But…
- The quicker the treatment, the greater the chance afib can be stopped. For those who have afib, information about the ailment and treatment options are imperative. You see, the longer someone has afib, the more likely they will convert from intermittent afib to being in it all the time, which means it’s more difficult to stop or cure.
- Afib changes the heart. Over time, afib changes the shape and size of the heart, altering the heart's structure and electrical system. Research at the University of Utah shows that this scarring (fibrosis) from long-term remodeling is correlated with strokes.
- Treatments continue to rapidly evolve. For years, the standard treatment for afib patients was to send them home with medications, some of which caused harm. Now there are additional options for stopping afib, including minimally invasive ablation procedures performed inside and outside the heart. For really stubborn and long-lasting afib, open-heart surgery may be a cure.
- You can make a difference in an afib patient’s life. This month, forward a link to someone you may know who could have the condition. Attend an afib awareness raising event or webinar. Or share the StopAfib.org site with some patients. Something as simple as that can help someone become free of afib.
Mellanie True Hills is the founder and CEO of StopAfib.org, a non-profit patient-to-patient resource for those living with atrial fibrillation. She also blogs at the Atrial Fibrillation Blog.
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