SAN ANTONIO — Every year, more than 750,000 people are hospitalized because of atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat. With an aging population, that number is expected to rise.
"We were at a time where we thought we had less than five million people in the United States not just ten years ago. Now we are approaching 7 to 8 million people," said Dr. Manoj Panday, the head of the section of electrocardio physiology and Associate Professor of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. He also sees patients within the University Health System. He said the rapidly rising number are the increasing number of causes leading to the disease. "Hypertension, heart disease, heart failure, obesity, and obstructive sleep apnea are the common causes of atrial fibrillation," he said.
Some of the symptoms of AFIB include heart palpitations or an uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat, weakness and fatigue, dizziness and lightheadedness, reduced ability to exercise and shortness of breath.
Delia Gonzales had those symptoms and more when she was diagnosed in 2014. "I was having problems," she said. "At night I would lay down and I would feel my heartbeat beating. I go to work and then come home and I'm tired and I'm not wanting to do anything."
Her husband was there for support and even researched the condition to find out more about it. Gonzales said, "He was concerned. He was always taking me to the doctors, taking me to the hospital, he was always checking on me."
He also had to help her with her many constantly changing medications. "It was like, 'am I taking one or two now? Am I taking this?' The doses changed. It was just hard all these years," she said.
After suffering three strokes, her AFIB was not something to mess with, because AFIB can also contribute to strokes. In fact, the risk of having a stroke with having AFIB is five times higher than someone without the condition. Dr. Panday added, "Atrial fibrillation can result in disability, stroke and death." That's why recognizing it early and treating it is key.