Hospitalizations rise dramatically for one heart problem

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OLATHE, Kan. -- Pam Pollock has a normal pulse and heartbeat, but it was so different last year.

"I was in congestive heart failure because of the rapid beat," Pollock said.

Pollock had atrial fibrillation or a-fib. The heart quivers. In addition to causing heart failure in some cases like Pollock's, a-fib greatly raises the risk of stroke.

A new study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions finds nearly a 50 percent increase in hospital stays for a-fib in the past decade. Researchers say a-fib will only become a larger health burden. But why?

Pollock's heart specialist at Olathe Medical Center says it has to do with the aging of the population and people having high blood pressure. Better control of it can keep a-fib away.

"The second most common cause is sleep apnea. It's quite often underdiagnosed and also undertreated, so proper diagnosis of sleep apnea has been shown to decrease the incidence of atrial fibrillation very well," said Dr. Ravi Yarlagadda.

The good news for patients? Treatment has improved dramatically. When medications didn't help, Dr. Yarlagadda put the freeze on Pollock's irregular rhythm.

"Find out where these areas of abnormal electrical activity are and then cauterize them," explained Dr. Yarlagadda.

A catheter is threaded to the heart to freeze the particular heart tissue where there's abnormal electricity that's causing the bad rhythm.

"I haven't had any problems whatsoever since the day they did it," said Pollock.

That was last January. Her heart is back in a steady beat.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include a heart that is pounding or racing, and a jittery or anxious feeling. There can also be shortness of breath and fatigue.

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