September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – According to the American College of Cardiology, more than 3 million Americans are affected by atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common type of heart rhythm disorder, and some do not know they have it. People with AFib are five times more likely to suffer a stroke than the average person, which is why it is important to learn the signs and symptoms.

“Although the increased risk for stroke makes AFib potentially life-threatening, the good news is that with the multidisciplinary and comprehensive options offered by WVU Medicine, people who undergo treatment can live a relatively normal life,” Vinay Badhwar, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, said. “We encourage anyone who experiences the symptoms or has risk factors for AFib to get checked out by a physician sooner rather than later.”

There are three types of AFib – paroxysmal, persistent, and permanent. Paroxysmal AFib comes and goes and usually stops on its own. Persistent AFib lasts longer than one week and can become permanent. Permanent AFib occurs when the heart cannot be restored to its normal rhythm.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness or light-headedness, palpitations, and chest pain. However, some people with AFib experience no symptoms whatsoever.

“The lack of symptoms can be dangerous because the longer AFib goes untreated, the more likely it is that the individual will have a stroke,” Dr. Badhwar said. “In those instances, we look at risk factors, including advancing age, obesity, and chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes, overactive thyroid, and chronic kidney disease. Typically, patients who have more than one of these items should be screened for AFib.”

There are a variety of treatments for AFib, including but not limited to:

  • Rate control to make sure the heart does not beat too quickly during AFib
  • Rhythm control to restore the heart’s rhythm to a normal state and keep it there
  • Anticoagulation medication (blood thinners) to reduce stroke risk
  • Lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, and watching alcohol and caffeine intake

The AFib Program at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute takes a comprehensive team approach to treatment and includes specialists in Interventional Cardiology, Electrophysiology, and Cardiac Surgery. The specialists at WVU Medicine are internationally known for their expertise and leadership in AFib treatment, including one of the nation’s top left atrial appendage closure programs and having authored the most recent guidelines in the management of AFib. In addition, the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute serves as one of seven host sites in the nation for the American Association of Thoracic Surgery’s James L. Cox Fellowship in Atrial Fibrillation Surgery. Today (Sept. 4), Vasily I. Kaleda, M.D., from Moscow begins his one-month fellowship training on the surgical treatment of AFib through the fellowship program at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute. 

The WVU team offers three procedures for the treatment of AFib:

  • Catheter ablation, which uses energy in the form of heat or extreme cold to scar heart tissue that triggers or sustains AFib;
  • Placement of the WATCHMAN Left Atrial Appendage Closure Implant, which closes off the left atrial appendage to keep blood clots from forming and potentially causing a stroke; and
  • Surgical ablation, during which a surgeon performs minimally invasive highly precise and targeted scars in the heart tissue to make a path for the electricity in the heart to follow while also closing off the left atrial appendage at the same time.

“Our team is truly in it for the patient,” Harold Roberts, M.D., co-director of program integration for advanced cardiac surgery at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, said. “As a team, we want to ensure that we are doing what is best for our patients now and in the long-term. We continue to see our patients after their procedures to monitor them for life.”

Those who think they may have atrial fibrillation are encouraged to schedule an appointment with their doctors as soon as possible. Patients who do not yet have a cardiologist can schedule an appointment at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute by calling 855-WVU-CARE.

For more information on the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, visit