Matters of the heart: A look into AFib

A team approach to treating AFib

By: Rachel Rivera

You could be living with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, and not know it. But not all is lost — once it’s diagnosed, our expert care teams can treat the condition and patients can take steps to reduce the risk of future life-threatening events.


(From left) Sarah Reeves, P.A.-C.; Christy Perry, patient service representative; William Miles, M.D.; Michelle Daniels, L.P.N.; Steve Cox, patient service representative; and Ryan Harmon, L.P.N., LD-ACU, are members of the UF Health Cardiology at Springhill team.

What is AFib?
AFib is a condition marked by arrhythmia (irregular rhythm or heartbeat) in the top chambers of the heart. If left untreated, serious health conditions — such as blood clots, which increase the likelihood of a stroke — may occur. It’s important to see your physician if you are experiencing symptoms or have concerns regarding your heart health. Your care team will perform an electrocardiogram to record your heart’s electrical signals and check for abnormalities. A heart monitor may be required — for either 24 hours or 14 to 30 days — to provide insight into the percentage of irregular heart rhythm occurrences.

How is AFib treated?
There are multiple treatment options, all of which are dependent on a patient’s specific condition and needs. The goal in treating AFib is to restore the heart’s normal rhythm, control the frequency of symptoms and eliminate any discomfort. One common treatment option includes heart rate control medications and anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medications. Another option is an electrophysiological, or EP, study and catheter ablation. An EP study, which is performed by an electrophysiologist, maps the origin of AFib and can lead to an ablation if necessary. A catheter ablation, if successful, fixes irregular heartbeats by transmitting energy to the targeted heart muscle, allowing the heart to beat at its normal rhythm.

What happens when a patient needs an ablation?
Patients are seen and evaluated at the UF Health Cardiology at Springhill practice. If a patient is an EP study/ablation candidate, the coordinator schedules the procedure and all outside presurgical labs. The patient then visits the UF Health Shands Hospital Electrophysiology Lab for the procedure. The procedure is performed by the patient’s attending physician and can take two to six hours to complete, after which patients stay for two days post-op and are discharged on the third day. The patient then returns to UF Health Cardiology at Springhill for follow-up appointments on the first and third month following their procedure.

What is the team’s biggest challenge?
There is no cure for AFib, which may be difficult for a patient to accept.

“We try to never say the word ‘cured’ to patients. They often believe that once they have an ablation that they shouldn’t have AFib anymore,” said Sarah Reeves, P.A.-C., MPAS, UF Health Cardiology at Springhill physician assistant. “We can control and limit their symptoms, but recurrence happens and AFib may still be around.”

It is also important for patients to continue anticoagulation therapy to prevent the formation of clots. The limitation of medications for patients who have unstable blood pressure and/or heart rate is another challenge. Some patients end up with pacemakers to help control their heart rate.

Common symptoms:

• Rapid and irregular heartbeat
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Fatigue when exercising
• Heart palpitations, fluttering or racing of heart in chest