20. “I’m 80 and been in Chronic (persistent/permanent) A-Fib for 3 years. I actually feel somewhat better now than when I had occasional (Paroxysmal) A-Fib. Is it worth trying to get an ablation?”
With Chronic A-Fib of long duration, perhaps not. Although a few centers get very good results when treating Chronic A-Fib even of long duration (the French Bordeaux group achieves an acceptable success rate after 2 ablations), most centers have a success rate of only around 50% for Chronic A-Fib. And although catheter ablation is a low risk procedure, there are still risks.
Many centers won’t ablate patients who are over 80 years old or in Chronic A-Fib for over a year. There is a higher risk of complications in older people, and it is more difficult to ablate Chronic A-Fib. (In Chronic A-Fib there are often multiple spots in the heart producing A-Fib signals. It’s hard to identify and ablate [isolate] them all.)
The Positive Side of being in Chronic A-Fib: Sometimes people feel relieved to be in permanent A-Fib. There’s no longer the fear, uncertainty, and shock of an A-Fib attack. You can adjust your lifestyle to how your heart behaves, because it doesn’t change much. You may be short of breath, somewhat light headed, tired, and unable to work or exercise hard. But you get used to it. You may even feel better than when you had Paroxysmal A-Fib. In addition, an ablation may be only partially successful and have the unwanted consequence of putting you back into Paroxysmal A-Fib.
You still need to take blood thinners to prevent an A-Fib stroke. But if you get the Watchman or Lariat device installed (very low risk), it closes off your Left Atrial Appendage where 95% of A-Fib clots originate. It’s then possible to go off of Coumadin baring other risk factors for stroke.
The Negative Side of being in Chronic A-Fib: The down side of being in Chronic A-Fib is your heart forever and always will not pump properly. Blood flow to your brain and other organs is reduced by about 15%-30%. This can lead to conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. (If you are a superior athlete like a bicyclist or runner, your exercise may overcome this reduced blood flow.)
A-Fib is a progressive disease. It tends to get worse even in Chronic A-Fib. Your atria expand and stretch. Your ejection fraction diminishes. Chronic A-Fib produces fibrosis and collagen deposits which stiffen the heart and make it less flexible. All this leads to conditions such as Congestive Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy
But please weigh the above statements carefully (the author is concerned that they may create unwarranted fear). How do you feel? If you don’t feel any symptoms and your doctor says your heart isn’t enlarging and/or developing poor ejection fraction, etc., then there’s no need to rush out to get a Pulmonary Vein Ablation which does involve real risk.
The Bottom Line: You can be cured of Chronic A-Fib, even at your age. But it will take at least 2 ablations. And it won’t be easy finding a doctor to do it. (There is a short list of doctors at Specialists In Persistent/Chronic A-Fib. You need someone with a proven track record in ablating Chronic A-Fib.) However, an ablation is more risky at your age.
On the other hand, you can live in Chronic A-Fib. Many people do. The key to living a satisfying life in Chronic A-Fib may be good rate control. For example, a resting heart rate of around 80 beats per minute with an exercise rate of 110 is very close to that of a normal person. People with good rate control of their Chronic A-Fib report a good quality of life and seem less prone to develop other heart or mental problems.
What this Means to You: Are you happy or content with your quality of life in Chronic A-Fib? If so, then the added hassles and risks of an ablation are probably not worth it for you. Only you (and your doctor) can decide if it’s better to spend your twilight years in a perhaps reduced but satisfactory quality of life.
• Haines, D. “Atrial Fibrillation: New Approaches in Management.” Un. of Virginia multi-media presentation, 1999, p.6.
• The Link Between Infections in Heart Disease. Life Extension Vitamins. Last accessed Feb. 16, 2013. URL: http://www.lifeextensionvitamins.com/cadico6otco.html
• Peykar, S. Atrial Fibrillation, Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute. Last accessed Feb 16, 2013. URL: http://caifl.com/arrhythmia-information/atrial-fibrillation/
• Heartscape: The Heart’s Structure. Last accessed Feb. 16, 2013. URL: http://www.skillstat.com/tools/heart-scape.↵
• Elias, MF, et al. Atrial Fibrillation Is Associated With Lower Cognitive Performance in the Framingham Offspring Men. Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, Vol. 15, No. 5 (September-October), 2006: pp. 214-222. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17904078
• Bunch, J. J., Weiss, P. P., & Crandall, B. G. et al. Atrial fibrillation is independently associated with senile, vascular, and alzheimer’s dementia. Heart rhythm, 2010:7 (4), 433-437. URL http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.hrthm.2009.12.004
• Camm, “Clinical Relevance of Silent Atrial Fibrillation: Prevalence, Prognosis, Quality of Life, and Management.” Journal of Interventional Cardiac Electrophysiology 4, 369-382, 2000, p. 373-376. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10936003
• Un. of Utah Health Sciences, Atrial Fibrillation FAQ, What is Atrial Fibrillation, Risks. http://healthsciences.utah.edu/carma/forthepatient/faqs.html, heart weakness, heart attacks, etc.
• Benjamin EJ, et al. Impact of atrial fibrillation on the risk of death: the Framingham Heart Study. Circulation. 1998 Sep 8;98(10):946-52. Last accessed Nov 22, 2014. URL: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/98/10/946.full.
Return to FAQ Catheter Ablations
FAQs Coping With Your Atrial Fibrillation: Day-to-Day Issues
Coping with your Atrial Fibrillation means a patient and their family have many and varied questions. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about dealing with the day-to-day issues of having Atrial Fibrillation. (Click on the question to jump to the answer.)
2. “Is there any way to predict when I’m going to have an A-Fib attack?”
3. “Should I exercise when in A-Fib or skip it and rest? Can I damage my heart if I exercise in A-Fib?”
4. “How long do I have before I go into chronic or permanent A-Fib? I know it’s harder to cure. My A-Fib episodes seem to be getting longer and more frequent.”
5. “They want to do an Atrial Flutter-only ablation, will that help if I possibly have A-Fib as well?”
6. “Is smoking medical marijuana or using Marinol going to trigger or cause A-Fib? Will it help my A-Fib?
7. “During an A-Fib episode, when should I call paramedics (911 in the US) and/or take my husband to the hospital? I’m petrified. I need a plan.”
8. “I have a lot of extra beats and palpitations (PVCs or PACs) They seem to proceed an A-Fib attack. What can or should I do about them?”
9. “How do I know which is the best A-Fib treatment option for me?”
10. “When my husband has an Atrial Fibrillation episode, what can I do for him? How can I be supportive?”
11. “How can I tell when I’m in A-Fib or just having something like indigestion?”
12. “What kind of monitors are available for atrial fibrillation? Is there any way to tell how often I get A-Fib or how long the episodes last?”
13. “I’m an athlete with A-Fib and have a naturally slow heart rate. My doctor says I need a pacemaker because my heart rate is too slow.”
14. “Can excess iron in the blood cause Atrial Fibrillation? How do I know? If I have Iron Overload Deficiency (IOD), what can I do about it?”
15. “Can too little iron in the blood (Anemia) cause Atrial Fibrillation? What can I do about iron deficiency?”
16. “Is it possible to have a single A-Fib attack and not have any others? I had a single episode of A-Fib and was successfully converted in the ER with meds.”
17. “My mom is 94 with A-Fib. Are there consumer heart rate monitors she can wear to alert me at work if her heart rate exceeds a certain number?”
18. “Can I have A-Fib when my heart rate stays between 50-60 BPM? My doctor tells me I have A-Fib, but I don’t always have a rapid heart rate.”
19. “I’m in Chronic A-Fib. Can I improve my circulation, without having to undergo a Catheter Ablation or Surgery?”
20. “In one of your articles it said that having an ablation was better than living in A-Fib. I’ve been taking 75 mg of propafenone 3X/day for seven years and have only had 5 A-Fib attacks in 7 years. If your article means all types of A-Fib [including Paroxysmal], then I will consider an ablation.”
21. “Both my uncles and my Dad have Atrial Fibrillation. I’m 50 years old and so far I don’t have A-Fib (yet), but I’m worried. How can I avoid developing A-Fib? Can dietary changes help? Or lifestyle changes?”
Last updated: Sunday, March 27, 2016
Return to Frequently Asked Questions