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Suddenly my heart started racing. I felt dizzy and it was difficult to breathe. I wasn’t in any pain, but I felt some pressure in my chest. I started to panic because I thought I was having a heart attack. My wife immediately drove me to the nearest Hirslanden clinic. In the cardiac emergency department, I was attached to an ECG machine and monitored straight away. It showed an irregular heartbeat with lots of small blips in between. The diagnosis: atrial fibrillation The doctor explained to me that it’s common for atrial fibrillation to just start suddenly, without any kind of trigger, but that it’s not life-threatening. In the meantime, the medication I had been given kicked in. Luckily, I didn’t need to have a cardioversion – an electric shock that restores the patient’s normal heartbeat. My heartbeat returned to normal and I started to feel somewhat better. The emergency doctor then transferred me to an in-house cardiologist for further tests, in order to establish what had caused the atrial fibrillation.
The cardiologist carried out an ultrasound on my heart, a cardiac stress test and an ambulatory ECG, and ordered several blood tests. Fortunately the results were all clear. I also didn’t have other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, which can trigger atrial fibrillation. The cause remained a mystery, which the cardiologist explained is often the case with cardiac arrhythmias. Nothing else needed to be done for the time being.
For six months my heart was working just fine, then suddenly the atrial fibrillation started again – out of the blue, like last time – but after this episode, it started coming back once or twice a week. Each attack only lasted for about 15 minutes, but I always felt completely exhausted afterwards. I went to see the cardiologist again. Given this new development, he said that I should start taking medication to prevent cardiac arrhythmias.
Was I going to be dependent on medication for the rest of my life? I was told that the atrial fibrillation could still get worse over the years and potentially even become a permanent condition, which was also a pretty sobering prospect. The doctor explained that the greatest danger was not the atrial fibrillation itself, but that a blood clot could form in my heart and lead to a stroke. I had seen a TV programme a while back about ablation in cases of atrial fibrillation and wanted to know whether this kind of treatment was suitable for me. The cardiologist said it was. After he had explained the treatment to me in detail, including all the advantages and disadvantages, I decided to go ahead with this minimally invasive operation, which is carried out in the cardiac catheterisation lab.
During the ablation procedure, a special catheter is inserted into the groin and through to the heart using x-ray control. A high frequency current is then used to remove the areas causing the uncontrolled electrical impulses and hence the atrial fibrillation. I was able to leave the clinic just one day after the operation. The ablation was a success. I still had to take the anti-clotting medication for a few months afterwards and have my blood coagulation levels tested every week. At the last check-up, the cardiologist said no more testing was necessary, because I hadn’t experienced any more atrial fibrillation. Now I lead a normal life, completely free of symptoms.
This report has an illustrative function. It is based on medical facts and serves to educate patients. The persons described are purely fictional.