Doctors to run campaign against heart disease

Many ‘afib’ patients feel fine but aren’t aware of dangers, says cardiology expert.

By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVITCH
February 14, 2012 03:40
2 minute read.
Doctors [illustrative]

Doctors residents x-ray 311. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

 
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The Israel Cardiology Society has called on those who suffer from atrial fibrillation to avoid suffering a potentially fatal or disabling ischemic stroke.

The organization of heart specialists announced at a Monday press conference it was launching a major public information campaign to prevent such strokes due to the condition.

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Known to doctors as “afib,” it refers to an irregular, rapid heartbeat, or a quivering of the upper chambers of the heart called the atria. The condition is not due to atherosclerosis (clogged coronary arteries) but a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system, which regulates its contraction.

The symptoms vary, with some who have afib describing it as their heart “skipping a beat,” followed by a thud and a speeding up of the heart. Others describe it as an erratic heartbeat, strong heart palpitations or a rapid heart rate. Some feel pressure in the throat and chest that mimics a heart attack. It may make patients dizzy, breathless, fatigued, faint, lightheaded or anxious. Sometimes, it is not a one-time occurrence but can continue for hours, weeks or even years.

Many people who feel one of the symptoms explain it away, saying it “just happened and passed,” but cardiologists insist it can potentially kill. Since the blood doesn’t properly move from the atria into the ventricles and then on to the rest of the body, it can starve the body of oxygen-rich blood, leaving victims feeling weak, tired or even incapacitated. But if blood collects in the atria and creates blood clots that move through the circulation, it can cause a stroke and permanent disability or death. It can also overwork the heart, leading to long-term heart failure.

Obesity and stress raise the risk, while as the population ages, the prevalence of afib is expected to rise.

Prof. Chaim Lotan, president of the society and chief of cardiology at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, said his group was morally and professionally bound to minimize the number of such cases. Speaking alongside representatives of the Internal Medicine and Neurology Societies, he said this could be accomplished by educating the public, reducing their risk factors and having them treated in time.



People who have had afib are up to five times more at risk than others to have a stroke. About 90,000 Israelis suffer from the heart condition. A recent survey, said Lotan, showed less than half of all people with afib are aware of their higher risk of an ischemic stroke. In addition, many do not get proper prophylactic treatment – anti-thrombotic therapy (blood thinners). The doctors said a variety of prescription drugs are available in the basket that if taken could prevent strokes in afib patients.

Stroke is the main cause of disability among adults and the third-most common cause of death in the Western world, including Israel. About 15,000 strokes occur here and 3,000 of the victims die of it each year.

Dr. Dov Gavish, a member of the internal medicine society and head of internal medicine A at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon said afib complications such as stroke put a huge burden on hospitals.

“We meet many patients who have afib and say they feel fine and are not aware of the need to prevent strokes with medication,” he said.

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