AFib treatment could save your life—but you may not know you have it

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A community built on care. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

You don’t hear a ton of scary stories involving AFib. For good reason—it’s quite common, and these days, it’s treatable. That is, if you know how to identify it. We caught up with a Birmingham specialist to get his best health tips for the heart. Check it out!

Meet the Doctor

Photo via Heart South Cardiovascular Group

Krishna Gaddam, M.D., is an electrophysiologist at Shelby Baptist Medical Center. He’s been with the Heart South Cardiovascular Group since 2014, prior to which he was the chief fellow of electrophysiology at Loyola University Medical Center.

“I myself had heart surgery when I was six years old, and that’s primarily what drove me to become a cardiologist.

Once I became a cardiologist, I found electrophysiology the most fascinating. It’s a newer branch and it’s very analytical.”

Dr. Krishna Gaddam, electrophysiologist, Shelby Baptist Medical Center

Until fairly recently, there wasn’t any sort of treatment for AFib. The medical field has made significant progress as far as treatments go, and Dr. Gaddam has seen a lot of that work come to fruition.

What is AFib?

Healthcare professionals that listen. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

First things first. What exactly is AFib?

“Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.”

Heart.org

At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib today. It’s essentially a heartbeat that’s a bit off, but it can lead to scenarios that are a lot more serious.

Plenty of patients that have AFib aren’t symptomatic. However, that doesn’t always mean they don’t need treatment. Once you have AFib, you have an increased risk of stroke. It’s also a precursor for congestive heart failure in many patients.

“It’s predicted that at least 20% of people who live into their 70s will develop AFib at some point.

They’ve also predicted that over 40% of people who live into their 80s will develop it.”

Dr. Krishna Gaddam, electrophysiologist, Shelby Baptist Medical Center

Know the Signs + Symptoms

Some of the best cardiac care around. Photo via Brookwood Baptist Health

As with any medical issue, knowing the signs and acting quickly can make all the difference. While AFib alone isn’t an emergency, letting it go untreated can turn into one.

Here’s what AFib may look and feel like:

“The most common symptom is feeling like your heart is racing. Some people have described it as feeling like butterflies in their chests.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling in the chest where they can feel their heart racing or beating irregularly.”

Dr. Krishna Gaddam, electrophysiologist, Shelby Baptist Medical Center

Other symptoms that Dr. Gaddam mentioned are as follows:

  • Experiencing shortness of breath
  • Fatiguing quickly

If you or a parent, neighbor, coworker or friend experiences these symptoms, it’s important to have it checked out.

“Especially with AFib, the longer you ignore it, the harder it is to reverse course. AFib, once it starts, is a progressive condition. The earlier something is done, the better your response to it.”

Dr. Krishna Gaddam, electrophysiologist, Shelby Baptist Medical Center

Prevention

Getting outside + moving is one of the best things you can do. Photo via Brookwood Baptist Health

Most often, AFib is associated with other risk factors. The same ones you hear when talking about stroke, heart disease and more. Here’s a preview:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High blood sugar
  • Sleep apnea
  • Obesity

Managing your health holistically is always the first priority when it comes to preventing future issues. I asked Dr. Gaddam if there were any specific actions you can take to minimize your risk of AFib and resulting problems.

He said one common factor that can put you at risk is excessive use of stimulants. Yes, my fellow coffee fiends, that means caffeine. Don’t tune out, though—Dr. Gaddam blamed energy drinks and diet pills more than cappuccinos.

I would try to minimize your use of those, and be cautious. Stimulants like that are clearly related to causing arrhythmias.”

Dr. Krishna Gaddam, electrophysiologist, Shelby Baptist Medical Center

Skip a Red Bull, go for a long walk and see a doctor when something seems off. Stay healthy out there, Bham!

To find more health + wellness advice from world-class experts here in our Magic City, sign up for BBH’s monthly newsletter right here.

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Beth Cunningham
A Birmingham transplant who can usually be found hitting a new hiking trail or restaurant opening when she's not writing stories and snapping photos for Bham Now.
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