"A lot of people have so-called chronic AFib, where it's there all the time. But as long as their heart rate isn't too fast, they're able to live their lives normally, and in some cases don't even notice it," says William Whang, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine in cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center.
The unexpected death of NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert in June shocked many Americans, who suddenly saw themselves at risk for heart trouble. Heart-healthy diets gained traction in 2008, along with tips for recognizing symptoms of heart disease.
Those topics are among the most viewed heart-related stories on WebMD for 2008.
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If you don't have any of these problems and your heart is pumping blood normally, your doctor may not try to get it back into a normal rhythm.
"There's no evidence showing that doing this will make a person live longer or have a lower stroke risk," says John Wylie, MD, director of electrophysiology services for Massachusetts-based Caritas Christi Health Care. "So it's hard to make the case for prescribing drugs and surgical interventions, which have their own risks."
But when you do have symptoms, that's a different story. If your heart goes in and out of a normal beat, you may be able to control it with medication alone. If you're in AFib all of the time, your doctor may recommend something else.
This is one of the first options to reset your heart. You'll be asleep under anesthesia, and the doctor will zap your chest with an electric shock.
"This isn't a permanent fix," Whang says. Your heart could fall out of sync again by the time you get home. "But getting the person back into normal rhythm, even for a short time, can tell us whether or not that makes them feel better. That tells us what we should do about treatment."
For example, a young person may not think that their AFib is causing them trouble. But after cardioversion, "They'll say, 'Wow, I didn't realize I was feeling so bad! I thought I was just getting lazy. But it was really the AFib that was sapping my energy,'" Wylie explains.