24 | Winter 2016
with that, the sinus or regular rhythm takes over, and they
actually have a normal rhythm for a time.”
This is how Stacey Powers’ AFib odyssey began.
After she was admitted to the hospital, she received six
cardioversion treatments, none of which succeeded in
returning her to a normal sinus rhythm. “I hated getting
my chest burned from cardioversion — it was like a
2nd degree burn,” she said. “Pretty much, the only other
If AFib has been in place for months or years, it may
be difficult to shock the heart into a normal rhythm.
Then doctors will try medications like beta blockers,
calcium channel blockers and
digoxin to control the patient’s
heart rate. Most people feel better
if their heart rate is controlled.
Doctors may also try medicines
like sodium channel blockers
and potassium channel blockers,
which affect the heart’s electrical
system, to impact its rhythm.
If cardioversion or medication
don’t work, ablation is another option. First, an
electrically sensitive catheter is used to map certain
structures of the heart and locate the origins of the
“extra” electrical activity. This map tells the physician (an
electrophysiologist) which areas of the heart are creating
problematic electric signals that interfere with proper
rhythm. Using this map, the physician threads a different
catheter to the problem areas and destroys malfunctioning
tissue using the catheter to deliver energy (such as
radiofrequency, laser or cryotherapy) to scar the problem
areas. The scarred areas no longer send abnormal signals.
If successful, the heart will return to normal rhythm.
Sometimes AFib doesn’t have noticeable signs, but these AFib patients share signs they did experience.
“We know that when people with
AFib have a stroke, they have poorer
outcomes than people who have
strokes not related to AFib.”