Monday, July 23, 2007
Heart disease survivor helps those living with atrial fibrillation to find solutions and alerts millions more who don't yet know they have it.
If your heart starts racing for no apparent reason and you feel as though you may pass out, you may have a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. For the millions who suffer from atrial fibrillation, the most common irregular heartbeat, this is a terrifying daily occurrence, and millions more may soon experience it.
Atrial fibrillation, commonly called afib, involves rapid or irregular heartbeats or quivering of the upper chambers of the heart. Characterized by skipped heartbeats, palpitations, and lightheadedness, it is so serious that it can lead to a stroke, the #3 killer, or to congestive heart failure from overworking the heart. Anyone can have it, but those with obstructive sleep apnea or existing heart disease are at far greater risk of having this affliction.
For Mellanie True Hills, heart health expert and author of A Woman's Guide to Saving Her Own Life: The HEART Program for Health and Longevity, life with atrial fibrillation was terrifying. After having numerous afib episodes that were accompanied by blood clots and near-strokes, Hills was fortunate to have a surgery that cured her afib. Thus it was only natural that she would start the American Foundation for Women's Health and a new web site, www.StopAfib.org, to inform atrial fibrillation patients and their families about options for dealing with this daunting condition.
This lethal cardiac arrhythmia leads to 15 to 20 percent of strokes in the United States (105,000-140,000 per year). Surprisingly, women account for 61 percent of U.S. stroke deaths. Stroke kills one person every hour of every day and is also the #1 cause of permanent disability among both women and men. People with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke, especially if they have other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, or excessive fat intake.
Curing Irregular Heartbeats
Hills now invests her energy in speaking out and in developing www.StopAfib.org to raise awareness of this alarming problem. This web site not only informs patients and their families about atrial fibrillation symptoms, causes, risks, and treatments, but also about life-saving options such as catheter ablation and minimally-invasive surgical ablation (Mini-Maze), the heart surgery that Hills had. At this site, patients find detailed information about procedures, such as how to know who is a candidate, risks and success rates, what to expect before, during, and after, and special considerations just for women. There is even a newsletter that highlights the latest about afib and innovative cures.
The risk of stroke from atrial fibrillation is immense, according to Hills, as one-third of atrial fibrillation patients will have a stroke. Stroke robs lives, leaving many of its victims paralyzed and disabled. By providing patients with information, she hopes that they can become proactive partners with their healthcare providers and get the solutions they need.
"From my own experience, I know how atrial fibrillation impacts patients and families," says Hills. "Afib takes such a huge physical, emotional, and financial toll that I just can't stand by on the sidelines and watch others go through this when I know that there are ways to manage and cure it"
According to Hills, in many cases, including her own, doctors grossly underestimate the impact of atrial fibrillation on patients' lives. As a former high-tech and high-stress executive, she was paralyzed with anxiety over the risk of stroke during each atrial fibrillation attack, keeping her from driving, flying or traveling far from home, from attending meetings, or from even being alone. Fear took over her life. She also suffered the vagaries of being on an anticoagulant to avoid blood clots. She was never stable on it due to genetic reasons, so finding a cure became a priority. "Being cured of atrial fibrillation gave me back my life and freedom," she says.
Hills continues, "Afib leaves many sufferers exhausted and unable to function, and is truly a huge waste of human potential. The devastating impact on people, families, employers, and communities is truly tragic. That's why our goal at www.StopAfib.org is to help afib patients find answers and solutions. We're patients advocating for other patients because we know how afib impacts lives. We can and must prevent strokes caused by atrial fibrillation, and help afib patients return to a normal life"
Five million Americans are currently afflicted with atrial fibrillation, and this situation will become even more urgent as atrial fibrillation overtakes aging Baby Boomers. The Mayo Clinic estimates that by 2050, sixteen million Americans will have it.
Hills' personal experience with atrial fibrillation helps her address the lack of urgency regarding this condition and how that can be deadly; how treatments such as anticoagulants can be grueling, especially for women; and new developments in procedures to cure atrial fibrillation.
To find out more about atrial fibrillation, and to sign up for the newsletter with the latest about treating atrial fibrillation, go to www.StopAfib.org.
To interview Mellanie True Hills about atrial fibrillation or StopAfib.org, please contact her at www.StopAfib.org.