When is it time to have your heart checked?
Sixty-two-year-old Mark Bird was at home, sick with a cold, when he noticed his heart started racing immediately after taking an antibiotic. For anyone who has not experienced a sudden change in heart rhythm, this can be quite scary.
“I thought, ‘This is beyond racing. I can’t even distinguish a beat,’” he said.
It happened again about five years later, when he was again sick with a cold. That’s when he knew it was time to find out what was causing it.
Bird was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a heart rhythm disorder that affects nearly 5 million people in the U.S. It happens when the top two chambers of the heart start beating erratically, according to Kent E. Morris, M.D., electrophysiologist. It can cause blood flow to stagnate in the heart, which puts the person at risk for stroke.
An avid painter who travels the world to capture beautiful scenery on canvas, Bird was active and in good health when he learned he had A-fib, but he knew he had to do something about it. Left untreated, A-fib can lead to blood clots, heart failure and stroke.
His cardiologist told him about catheter ablation, a minimally invasive procedure that stops A-fib and improves quality of life for many people.
“It involves placing a catheter in the vein in the leg up to the heart and cauterizing areas in the left side of the heart, where atrial fibrillation comes from — to prevent the A-fib from coming back,” Dr. Morris said.
When faced with the prospect of surgery, Bird was hesitant at first.
“It was a little unnerving to think about taking a person who is otherwise feeling fine and push them off a cliff, only to save them before they hit the bottom — that’s how I felt,” he said.
Bird tried medication before considering the ablation procedure, but in his case surgery was the best option.
“Most people will try medications first,” Dr. Morris said. “Some people do well on them for a period of time, but if risk factors aren’t treated or the A-fib progresses to the point where medication is no longer effective, then it’s time to consider ablation.”
Bird advises others not to put off the procedure.
“You owe it to yourself to go through this procedure,” he said. “It can mean the difference between hiding from your life and living your life.”
Tell us what you wish you would have known … Is there something you wish you would have known about A-fib or your heart before you were diagnosed?