Patient discovers he is in A-fib after Apple Watch alerts him to high heart rate

Aaron Mount woke with shortness of breath and minor chest pain. The next day he was diagnosed with atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation at Norton Brownsboro Hospital in Louisville.

In early January 2019, 35-year-old Aaron Mount woke with shortness of breath and minor chest pain. His Apple Watch showed his resting heart rate at about 165 beats per minute, well above the normal range. Aaron decided to go to an urgent care center to see why he wasn’t feeling well.

“I really didn’t think my symptoms were anything to be that concerned about, which is why I went to urgent care instead of the hospital,” Aaron said. “I had never experienced an emergency health situation. Even when the urgent care doctor recommended I go to the hospital that night, I waited until the next morning.”

The next day Aaron went to Norton Brownsboro Hospital, where he was diagnosed with atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation. Atrial flutter is a condition where the atria in the heart beat faster than normal. Atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib, is a condition where the atria in the heart beat irregularly.

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A-fib and atrial flutter treatment

Michael J. Springer, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists, treated Aaron with several treatment options that included:

  • Cardioversion in the hospital to get his heart to beat at a normal rhythm
  • Ablation, a procedure that scars problematic areas of the heart so they can no longer transmit abnormal signals
  • Medication to prevent blood clots and control the heart’s rhythm

“Atrial fibrillation is very common, and there are different kinds of treatments available including medications and procedures like ablations,” Dr. Springer said. “The best choice of treatment will differ for each patient depending on a number of factors. We don’t use a “one size fits all” approach. We have the full array of treatments available, and we carefully evaluate each person and discuss all the options before recommending a particular therapy.”

Related content: Answers to your questions about atrial fibrillation drugs

Warning signs and symptoms of A-fib

There was nothing in Aaron’s medical history to warn him of a heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. However, once he received the diagnosis, he realized there had been some warning signs of A-fib.

“I started going back through the history in my Apple Watch,” Aaron said. “Since February 2018 there had been drastic spikes in my heart rate, even when I was asleep. There were also times I could remember looking at my watch and seeing my heart rate jump way up, but I had never heard of atrial flutter or A-fib, so I didn’t think anything of it.”

According to Aaron, he discovered he could turn on a setting in his Apple Watch Series 3  that would notify him if it picks up on a pattern of abnormal heart rhythm. A nurse at Norton Brownsboro Hospital helped him test the watch’s accuracy. They determined it was accurate and could help Aaron keep an eye on his heart rate.

Recovering from A-fib

It will take about 12 weeks to determine whether Aaron’s ablation was successful. In the meantime, he monitors his heart rate and will need to seek further treatment if it gets high and stays high. There are also lifestyle changes that help with A-fib treatment, including abstaining from alcohol, eating a healthy diet and avoiding overexertion, for now.

According to Aaron, since his treatment, he has more energy and he’s sleeping better. He also said he learned an important lesson.

“I learned that A-fib and atrial flutter can happen to anyone. In fact, it’s prevalent in young people even though I think of heart issues as affecting older adults,” Aaron said. “Some causes include stress and anxiety, being overweight and excessive alcohol consumption, but I am a relatively healthy person and it happened to me.”

Aaron was impressed with his doctors and nurses at Norton Brownsboro Hospital and felt they went above and beyond to care for him. One moment stands out to him.

“One night in the hospital I was particularly worried because my heart rate was not normalizing,” Aaron said. “My nurse reassured me and told me she was going to take care of me and take care of my heart. Her kindness and confidence made me feel a lot better.”

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