The WellSpan Spotlight

Health and wellness

Heart skipping a beat? It may NOT be love – but something dangerous 

Heart skipping a beat? It may NOT be love - but something dangerous

Feel like your heart skips a beat? 

If you are in love, that's a good thing!  

Otherwise, it can be dangerous. 

An abnormal heartbeat might mean you have atrial fibrillation (Afib), a condition caused by faulty electrical signals in the heart that can result in extremely fast and irregular heartbeats. 

WellSpan expert cardiologist Dr. Matthew Singleton will discuss this condition and how to treat it at the free Love Your Heart Diehl Lectureship. 

We asked Dr. Singleton for a little advance insight on Afib. 

Who is at risk for Afib? Is it just found in older and sicker people? 

Anyone can get AFib – even people in their 20s and 30s who are otherwise healthy. However, the risk increases naturally as we grow older and have additional medical problems. Having higher blood pressure, being more overweight, living a sedentary lifestyle, and drinking more alcohol are all factors at least partially within your control that can increase your risk of Afib. 

But we see many patients who do everything "right" and have few or no risk factors who STILL get Afib. Some risk factors are not within your control, such as age, European ancestry, and even being tall, and all of these increase Afib risk!   

If I feel my heart racing once in a while, how does the doctor know if it's Afib? 

To know if your heart racing sensation is Afib, or something else, we have to see your heart acting up in real time, usually with a skin patch monitor that you wear for a few days that records your heart rhythms continuously.   

How fast of a heartbeat are we talking with Afib? 

Normally, the atrium, which is the top half of the heart, beats between 50 and 150 beats per minute, depending on your activity level at that time. When you are in Afib, your pulse and the bottom half of your heart might still have a normal rate, but the atrium is beating erratically at over 400 beats per minute.   

400 beats a minute! Yikes! That can't feel good. 

Some people actually cannot even tell that they are in Afib. Others have a vague sensation of something being off, or decreased exercise tolerance, exertional shortness of breath, or increased fatigue and tiredness. Still others feel the very moment they go into Afib as a frightening erratic heartbeat. Everyone experiences Afib differently.   

What does Afib do to your body? 

Afib causes accelerated wear and tear on the heart and other organs. Compared to people without Afib, patients with Afib have double the risk of death, triple the risk of heart failure, and five times the risk of stroke. These effects happen even if you are someone who cannot feel when you are in Afib.   

That sounds dangerous. Are there treatments for Afib? 

Absolutely. We use a team-based approach, using a variety of treatments, to give our patients the best possible outcomes. We incorporate lifestyle modification, medications to thin your blood and keep you in normal rhythm, minimally invasive catheter procedures to fix the underlying electrical malfunction responsible for Afib, and even open-heart surgery. WellSpan's electrophysiologists specialize in Afib management, and our patients have some of the best outcomes in the country.   

If you are interested in learning more, feel free to join me at the Diehl Lectureship for a discussion about how you can take control of your heart health and minimize your risk of Afib. It will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Wyndham Garden, 2000 Loucks Road, York. Participants also can watch the presentation via a livestream. 

Registration for this event is required, by going here or by calling 800-840-5905. You can attend in person or virtually.

To learn more about WellSpan's game-changing heart care, go here