It’s Heart Month! February serves as a reminder to take care of this very important organ. I had the pleasure of sitting down with retired B-105 DJ Duke Hamilton and his doctor at The Christ Hospital Heart & Vascular Center, Daniel Pelchovitz, MD.
Throughout the years working with Duke at B-105, I often heard of his trips to The Christ Hospital for treatment of his AFib. I thought this conversation would help illuminate the issue for anyone suffering from, or may be having symptoms of AFib, and hasn’t scheduled an appointment with their doctor yet.
First thing first, I asked Dr. P why AFib happens in some people. He said, “Well, we're not entirely sure. So what ends up happening is the rhythm in the upper chamber of the heart ends up becoming abnormal. A lot of time that's because people have a history of high blood pressure or they've gotten a little bit older. A lot of times it happens in people who have no risk factors. We're not really sure why it happens.”
I wanted to know, whenever you get a patient like Duke coming in, what's the process of trying to reverse this? I mean, can you reverse it, or just fix it? What's the process?
Dr. P replied, “Well, everybody's different. So it all depends on what your risk of stroke is. And it depends on what your symptoms are. If you don't have much of a risk of stroke and you don't have many symptoms, there's actually not much we have to do for you with your atrial fibrillation. Where we have to do most of the work is where people have lots of symptoms related to their AFib. For people who are really fatigued, really short of breath, having lots of episodes of atrial fibrillation, treatment can range from simple observation to medicines to even invasive procedures to treat this.”
While I’m listening I wondered if Duke ever had these symptoms. I asked, and Duke said, “Yeah, once the heart went into a constant AFib, and before I got the treatment for it, I felt very tired all the time. I had no energy. I would get winded walking from the garage down here into the radio station. So yeah, once I got back into regular rhythm, it was like night and day difference for me.”
So, what are the dangers if you're noticing some of the symptoms where you feel like your heart is out of rhythm? Or if you're kind of feeling fatigued like Duke? If you just don't do anything about it, then what happens?
Dr. P said, “The biggest concern is actually the risk of stroke. That's the really big medical problem that's associated with atrial fibrillation.”
Stroke! That’s scary! Is there anything we can do to prevent this?
Dr. P advised, “There are a few things we treat right off-the-bat. One, we want to see if you’re at risk for sleep apnea. So if your spouse says they're sleeping in the other room because you're snoring too much, then we want to get that treated. If you're drinking too much alcohol, we want to prevent that and ask you to cut back on how much alcohol you're drinking. If your blood pressure's out of control, if you have uncontrolled diabetes, if you're significantly overweight, these are all things we address directly when somebody comes in with AFib.”
Duke, have you made any lifestyle changes since your diagnosis?
Duke said, “Yeah. You know, I try to limit myself on the beers. And get some healthy exercise a little bit. You know, I do the chores around the farm and that helps me get some exercise in because I sit at work all day long. I've started watching what I eat a whole lot too. You know, stay away from a whole lot of fast food and that kind of thing. So yeah, I've made some adjustments.”
Dr. P adds that some devices like smartwatches can indicate if your heart is out of rhythm, but nothing is as accurate as seeing your doctor.