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Experts: Atrial fibrillation becoming epidemic among older patients

A-fib is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications, according to the American Heart Association. (KATV Photo)

There are at least 2.7 million Americans living with atrial fibrillation, or a-fib. It's an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications, according to the American Heart Association. It's a condition some experts call an epidemic.

“I would have shortness of breath, I could feel my heartbeat,” recalled Dana Traywick, “I was very aware of my heart rate being irregular.”

Those symptoms, combined with discomfort, led Traywick to Dr. Tom Wallace, a cardiac electrophysiologist with CHI St. Vincent.

“Most of the time, patients who have electrical issues have palpitations,” Dr. Wallace explained. “So they'll feel their heart fluttering or flipping or flopping.”

The retired schoolteacher from Hot Springs has atrial fibrillation.

Traywick isn't alone. Dr. Wallace says a-fib is very common.

“It's become an epidemic, especially in folks as they age. In ages 60 and older, we're seeing it more and more, and it's caused by all kinds of issues from obstructive sleep apnea to an overactive thyroid. Sometimes it's just a condition the heart has as it ages.”

“Since the meds and the ablation have controlled my a-fib, I really don't have any issues when I exercise now,” Traywick said. “Quality of life is great.”

With treatment, she's been able to get back to working out and encourages others with a-fib symptoms to look at treatment options.

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