BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A cardiac condition called atrial fibrillation,
the most common cardiac arrhythmia, can increase your risk of
stroke by 500 percent. That's why Anne B. Curtis, MD, Charles and
Mary Bauer Professor and Chair of the University at Buffalo
Department of Medicine, is helping to raise public awareness of the
condition during September through the Heart Rhythm Society's AF
Curtis, a past president of the society, is the national
campaign's Buffalo area spokesperson.
"Atrial fibrillation is a rapid and irregular heart rhythm that
can cause the heart to beat erratically, sometimes as fast as 200
beats per minute," she explains. "It's the most common heart
arrhythmia but, unfortunately, most people know very little about
There are more than 2 million people in the U.S. who live with
AF, and approximately 160,000 new cases are diagnosed each
Because AF can increase the risk of stroke by 500 percent -- an
enormous increase, Curtis says -- it's critical to know if you have
it or are at risk for it.
Curtis says that many patients end up being diagnosed with AF
when they visit their doctors complaining of palpitations,
shortness of breath, fatigue or exercise intolerance.
"But some patients have AF and don't have any symptoms," Curtis
says, "which is why it's critical to know who is at higher risk for
it. For one thing, AF becomes more common as we get older. Anyone
older than 60 years of age is automatically at higher risk for
Other risk factors include diabetes, hypertension, congestive
heart failure or other types of cardiovascular disease;
hyperthyroidism, chronic lung disease, sleep apnea, excessive
alcohol consumption and serious illness or infection.
Curtis suggests that anyone who has one of these conditions
should discuss atrial fibrillation with their physician to see if
an electrocardiogram should be performed.
Once a diagnosis of AF is confirmed with an electrocardiogram,
the patient can be treated with medications, which prevent stroke,
slow the heart rate and keep the rhythm normal. She discusses some
of these medications and their pros and cons for AF patients at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGYemuenqtE.
In addition to warfarin, the well-established anti-stroke
medication that requires blood testing to adjust the dose, Curtis
says that patients now have another alternative, the anticoagulant,
dabigatran, for prevention of stroke in certain patients with AF.
Additional medications are now being tested, Curtis says, which may
soon provide patients with additional options.
Patients with recurring bouts of AF also can be treated with
catheter ablation, a procedure that involves threading catheters up
into the heart to the locations, usually in the pulmonary veins,
where the atrial fibrillation impulses start, Curtis says.
"We can burn around the openings of those veins and that
prevents those impulses from getting into the heart and triggering
AF," she says.
This procedure can prevent further episodes of AF in certain
patients, while in others, it acts as more of a way to help manage
the condition. Patients may be less symptomatic or have better
rhythm control with drugs that didn't work previously.
Curtis is a key contributor to the guidelines on AF that are
issued periodically by the American College of Cardiology
Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice
Guidelines. Her contributions, along with those of her colleagues,
provide health-care providers with recommendations based on the
most current research findings so that they can make the best
treatment decisions for their patients.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.