Understanding and Treating AFib

At some point in life, many adults have an abnormal heart rhythm, also called an arrhythmia. The most common type, Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), affects at least 2.7 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).


September marks National AFib Awareness Month, a critically important time for Aspirus Health to raise awareness for this life-threatening condition. 


AFib is an irregular and often very fast heart rate and left untreated, can have serious consequences.


“Experiencing AFib may be frightening, but the attack itself is not our main concern. The real danger is in the person’s increased risk for stroke or heart failure,” says Aspirus Heart Care Cardiothoracic Surgeon John Johnkoski, MD. “Having some knowledge about the condition and how to handle it if it occurs will be helpful to both the patient and the provider.”


The AHA suggests these important steps for anyone who thinks they may have AFib:


  • Know the symptoms. The most common symptom is a quivering or fluttering heartbeat. Others may include fatigue, dizziness, sweating, weakness, faintness or confusion, shortness of breath and chest pain.
  •  Get the right treatment. “Arrhythmias can range from harmless to life-threatening. Fortunately, they can often be successfully treated through a variety of treatment options,” says Kevin Rist MD, PhD, an electrophysiologist with Aspirus Heart Care.

Following a proper diagnosis through an in-depth examination from a provider, they may suggest a treatment plan that includes:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • A pacemaker or implanted defibrillator
  • A catheter-based procedure called cardiac ablation
  • Surgery
  • Reduce risks for stroke and heart failure. Additional heart problems with AFib are possible, but not inevitable. It is important to follow the treatment plan laid out by your provider as well as maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle to help reduce your overall risks as much as possible. AHA suggests the following:
  • Get regular physical activity
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet, low in salt, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
  • Manage high blood pressure
  • Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine
  • Don’t smoke
  • Control cholesterol
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Treat any sleep apnea


Knowledge is power. Being aware of AFib, its dangers and risks can give you the upper hand when it comes to heart health. Talk with your provider to lessen your chances of AFib or to treat it if it occurs.


The Atrial Fibrillation Clinic at Aspirus Heart Care provides comprehensive evaluation and customized treatment plans to address atrial fibrillation. For more information or to schedule an appointment email afibclinic@aspirus.org or call 715-843-1331.