Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most common type of arrhythmia requiring treatment in the United States—currently, 2.2 million people in the United States have it.
And yet, many people don’t know how to go about receiving the right treatment or don’t know what questions to ask their doctor about atrial fibrillation. Asking the pertinent questions can help you receive successful treatment and, ultimately, better health.
Treatment for AFib is adapted to individual needs, and knowing more about the condition will help your doctor adjust according to your specifications.
"We actually try to personalize treatment for everybody," Smit Vasaiwala, MD, an assistant professor of cardiology at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, told Everyday Health. "Every patient is a little different. Despite general aspects of care, the approach to treatment will be different for everyone."
To get the individual regimen you deserve, here are some great questions to ask your doctor about atrial fibrillation:
1. What is causing my symptoms?
Before you go to the doctor, write down the symptoms you’re experiencing, even if they seem unrelated to atrial fibrillation. Write them down as you experience them so you don’t forget any. This list will help your doctor diagnose what’s occurring in your body in your individual case.
Your atrial fibrillation may be caused or exacerbated by other health conditions including diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and obesity. Your treatment plan will be altered accordingly. People who are morbidly obese are at a much higher risk for AFib. Treating these issues simultaneously might help you restore a normal heart rhythm.
2. What are my treatment options?
The American Heart Association says that the possible treatments for atrial fibrillation are:
Medication. Some medications can help control your heart’s rhythm, and other blood-thinning medications can prevent clots.
Catheter ablation. This procedure uses energy waves, lasers, or other sources of energy to block abnormal electrical signals that create AFib. However, this procedure might not be right for people who are extremely overweight, have kidney or liver disease, or who are very old.
Your doctor will take several factors into consideration when deciding your treatment, including the severity and frequency of your symptoms, your age, and your weight.
Before your appointment, make a list of all the medications and remedies you are currently taking, including vitamins and supplements. Your doctor can inform you if they may affect your atrial fibrillation or if they won’t mix well with newly prescribed medications.
3. What tests do I need?
In order to get a better understanding of your heart and brain health, your doctor needs to perform a few essential tests. This is so she can personalize your treatment. Here are the most common tests that may be conducted:
Electrocardiogram. Also known as EKG or ECG. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, this is a painless test that records your heart’s electrical activity, shows how fast your heart is beating, finds the irregularity of your heartbeat, and records the strength and timing of electrical signals as they pass through your heart.
Echocardiogram. Also known as an echo. This test uses sound waves to produce images of your heart so your medical team can see how well your heart is beating and pumping blood. The images allow your doctor to find any abnormalities in your heart muscle and valves.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Special MRI tests can evaluate the buildup of scarring in parts of the heart to determine if a catheter ablation is the right treatment for you.
Be aware of pre-appointment restrictions in case you do blood work tests and other procedures. You may need to restrict what you eat right before the appointment. Ask what possible constraints there are when you schedule your appointment.
4. Should I make lifestyle changes?
Changing your daily routine may restore a normal heart rhythm, especially for people who are newly diagnosed. Too much coffee or alcohol consumption or too much stress could be creating your AFib, and simply reducing them can potentially reverse your heart condition.
The American Heart Association lists other preventive steps you can take, including exercising regularly; eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol; maintaining good cholesterol and blood pressure; not smoking; and losing weight.
Bring personal information with you to your appointment, such as your family history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The extent of the changes you need to make to your lifestyle will depend greatly on your genetic risk for heart problems. In addition, be open to talking about any major stresses that have occurred or are occurring and how that stress affects your daily life.
5. How important is controlling my AFib?
"AFib is a progressive disease, so the sooner it's treated, the better things will be," Dr. Vasaiwala says. "For patients who've been in AFib for a long period of time, the chances of successfully returning to a normal heart rhythm are significantly lower."
It's vital you stick to your personalized treatment plan in order to control your atrial fibrillation. AFib increases the likelihood for other health conditions; according to the National Stroke Association, people with AFib are five time more likely to have a stroke than people without it.
For support, bring a family member or close friend with you to the appointment. He or she will help you remember all that was said. The best idea is to bring your spouse or someone you live with so they can help you keep your treatment regimen on track.
Other possible questions to ask:
Here are some other great questions you can ask your doctor, provided by the Mayo Clinic:
• Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover seeing a specialist? (You may need to ask your insurance provider directly for information about coverage.)
• Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
• Are there any brochures or other printed material I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?