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AF Symposium 2015

Jeremy Ruskin, MD

Jeremy Ruskin, MD

Can Anyone in A-Fib Really Be Asymptomatic?

Dr. Jeremy Ruskin of Massachusetts General made a statement during the ‘Challenging Cases’ discussions which changed my thinking about the true nature of asymptomatic or ‘silent’ A-Fib.

Not everyone may “feel” their A-Fib symptoms…but losing that amount of blood flow must affect your body and brain in some way
When describing a patient in persistent A-Fib who is “asymptomatic,” Dr. Ruskin wondered whether someone in A-Fib can really be asymptomatic; that is, if you dig deep enough, will you find that A-Fib does affect their life-style or how they feel.

In the case being discussed, Dr. Ruskin recommended an Electrocardioversion to get the asymptomatic patient back in Normal Sinus Rhythm (NSR). Many times patients who are used to living with their A-Fib will indeed notice a difference when returned to NSR—they often feel much better.

Editor’s Comments:
In A-Fib, you lose 15%-30% of your normal pumping blood volume because the atria fibrillate instead of pumping blood down into the ventricles. Not everyone may “feel” A-Fib symptoms like chest pains, palpitation or shortness of breath. But losing that amount of blood flow must affect your body and brain in some way. Patients with persistent A-Fib may adjust their life-style to this loss of blood flow or just get used to it. Or they may compensate with strenuous exercise (making the ventricles suck blood down from the non-functioning atria like a turkey baster). But A-Fib is affecting them, consciously or not.
I have a friend who is in persistent A-Fib and is “asymptomatic.” He is a swimmer and exercises a lot. He does take a blood thinner to prevent an A-Fib stroke (which he doesn’t like. He wants to get a Watchman device installed to close off his Left Atrial Appendage [LAA] so that he doesn’t have to take anticoagulants).
I will now recommend to my friend that he get an cardioversion to see if he notices a difference when he is in Normal Sinus Rhythm (NSR) compared to being in persistent A-Fib. A cardioversion is non-invasive and pretty safe. The only problem is that the result often doesn’t last. But even if it lasts for just a few days, my friend would still be able to compare being in NSR versus living in persistent A-Fib. (I’ll also remind him that the best way to get off of anticoagulants is to cure your A-Fib.)
And returning to NSR after a cardioversion even for a few days is generally a good sign that a successful catheter ablation may fix his A-Fib, that his A-Fib hasn’t progressed so far that he can’t be shocked out of it.

Return to AF Symposium 2015: Brief Reports

Last updated: Friday, February 27, 2015

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