Atrial Fibrillation: A Commonly Overlooked Heart Condition

September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness month, and organizations across the country are working to raise awareness about this common but frequently undiagnosed medical condition. The Heart Rhythm Society reports that atrial fibrillation (AFib) affects more than 2.5 million people in the United States, but many people do not even know they have it. This is alarming, because having AFib carries serious risks including stroke, congestive heart failure and death.

Dr. Farhat Khairallah

Dr. Farhat Khairallah is a Board Certified Electrophysiologist with Tallahassee Memorial Physicians Partners, Cardiac & Internal Medicine Specialists, Services provided by Southern Medical Group, P.A.

One of the most common heart rhythm disorders, AFib is a serious, but treatable condition characterized by a racing or fluttering heartbeat. The condition happens when the top chambers of the heart quiver too quickly, sometimes faster than 200 times per minute.

There are three types of AFib:

  • Paroxysmal: Recurrent episodes that spontaneously stop in less than 7 days
  • Persistent: Recurrent episodes that do not stop within 7 days. This requires treatment, or it will worsen into permanent AFib.
  • Permanent: An ongoing episode lasting more than one year.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation are important when initiating the conversation with your doctor as to whether you may have an undiagnosed case of AFib. Some patients with AFib have no symptoms, but the majority complains of palpitations. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to, fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling, lightheadedness and, in rare instances, fainting.

  • Additionally, there are risk factors that can increase your chances of developing the condition.
  • Age. As you get older, your risk for developing the condition increases.
  • Heart disease. Having heart disease, valve problems, a heart attack or heart surgery increases your chances of developing AFib.
  • High blood pressure. It’s important that you control high blood pressure with an active lifestyle or proper medications to decrease your chances of developing AFib.
  • Other health conditions. The presence of conditions such as thyroid disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, being overweight, obstructive sleep apnea and any serious illness or infection can increase your chances of developing AFib.
  • Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption can affect the rhythm of your heart and place you at risk for developing AFib.
  • Family history. Unfortunately, even with proper exercise and diet, having a family history of AFib will place you at risk of developing the condition as well.

The good news is that, in most cases, AFib is treatable. Knowing the signs, symptoms and risk factors can help you and your physician diagnose the condition early, improving your chances of successful treatment. (more…)

Save the Life of a Loved One with CPR

Akash Ghai, MD

By: Akash Ghai, MD

While statistics show that 80 percent of those who experience cardiac arrest are at home and frequently have family present during the crisis, the American Heart Association reports that 70 percent of Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency.

Local statistics reflect this national shortfall. In 2012, Leon County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) records show that only 20 percent of cardiac arrest patients outside of medical facilities had bystander CPR in progress when help arrived.

With so many cardiac arrests occurring at home, learning CPR could mean the difference between life and death for a family member, friend or other loved one. Individuals who receive CPR immediately upon cardiac arrest have as much as double the chance of survival as someone who does not receive CPR. In fact, circulating oxygenated blood to the brain is so vitally important, a mere four to six minute difference in initiating CPR could determine whether a cardiac arrest victim sustains permanent brain damage.

If a cardiac arrest occurs in a public place, many facilities will have an automated external defibrillator (AED), which along with CPR can increase survival rates even more. An AED is a portable device that can deliver an electric shock to the heart in an effort to reestablish a regular heartbeat.

Because every second counts, it is critical to know CPR and be mindful of where AEDs are located in the event of an emergency. Being prepared saves lives. If you witness a cardiac arrest or find someone unresponsive, CALL 911 and be ready to administer bystander CPR. The life you save is most likely going to be that of someone you love.

For more information on CPR training visit www.heart.org/CPR or contact your local American Heart Association office. Leon County Emergency Medical Services can also be reached by calling Captain Davis at 850-606-2100.

Ooh… Ahh…Oww! – The Do’s and Don’ts of Fireworks Safety

Sam Ashoo, MD

By: Sam Ashoo, MD, Medical Director Bixler Emergency Center

With Independence Day just around the corner, many families will be stocking up on sparklers, fountains and spinners to set off in their own yards and driveways. Included on the summer “to-do” list should be a discussion about fireworks safety. Over two-thirds of all fireworks-related injuries happen during June and July.  According to the most recent data available, between June 17, 2011 and July 17, 2011, more than 6,200 firework related injuries occurred.

The best way to protect you and your loved ones is to leave handling fireworks to the professionals. Professional firework displays like the ones at Tom Brown Park follow many safety precautions in order to keep the staff and public safe from inherent dangers. When fireworks are bought for home use, it is up to each person, parent or guardian present to ensure they are used safely. Unfortunately, many people do not realize how dangerous even the simplest fireworks can be. (more…)

Stroke: Time is Brain – Know the Warning Signs

Siddharth Sehgal, MD

By: Siddharth Sehgal, MD

Because brain cells die every second once stroke occurs and can never be recovered, time is everything for the stroke victim. Acting fast is critical to ensuring proper treatment as quickly as possible, and early intervention vastly improves the quality of life stroke victims experience both during and after recovery. Knowing what to look for can mean immediate care for your loved one.

Use the following acronym to remember the warning signs of a stroke:

F – FACE: Facial droop, sudden numbness/tingling and blurred vision are all warning signs of stroke. If possible, ask the person to smile and check to see if one side hangs lower. Their smile may appear to be crooked.

A – ARM: Sudden weakness, numbness or tingling of the arm might be present with stroke. If possible, ask the person to hold both arms out, close their eyes, and check for drifting of one arm.

S – SPEECH: Check for sudden slurred or garbled speech. If possible, ask the person to repeat a sentence and listen for changes in speech or the inability to follow this command.

T – TIME: Call 911 immediately! Stroke is a medical emergency. It is important to seek medical care, preferably at a center certified in stroke care, as soon as possible. Studies show that stroke patients who arrive at the hospital by ambulance receive quicker treatment than those who arrive by their own means. (more…)

Car Seat Basics

Hayley Scott, MD

Protect Your Child by Learning Car Seat Basics

By: Hayley Scott, MD

Pregnant with my first child and shopping for a car seat, I found myself overwhelmed with aisles and aisles of choices at the local big box stores.  The fact that car accidents are the #1 cause of injury and death among American children and youth was prominent in my mind.  While most parents spend hours agonizing over paint colors for the nursery, one of the most important decisions to make for a new baby is selecting an appropriate car seat and then correctly installing and using it.

New parents can find themselves confused while determining which seat is right for them.  Once you look beyond the branding, advertising, and pressure, it’s not as difficult as it may seem—the right car seat fits the child, fits the vehicle, fits the budget, and gets used correctly 100 percent of the time.

Birth –Two

From birth to a minimum of two years old, children should be in car seats that face the back window of the vehicle.  Yes, two years old.  This rear-facing position offers the most support for a baby or toddler’s fragile head and neck in the event of an accident.  You might be wondering: “But won’t his legs be squished?”  Legs are actually less likely to be injured rear facing. (Besides, I like to think of my two-year-old son as riding in a big recliner in the car.) (more…)

How to Talk to Your Doctor

Lisa Jernigan, MD

By: Lisa Jernigan, MD

Your stomach has been hurting for weeks now, and you finally decide to see your doctor. Following your visit, you fill your prescription, but are not sure the doctor really understood your complaints. A week later, your stomach is still hurting.

What can patients do to get the most out of visits with physicians, and to end up with more accurate diagnoses and helpful treatments? If you are being seen by appointment, be as specific as you can about the problem with the person doing the scheduling. “I’m having pain in my stomach” is not as helpful as “I’ve been vomiting for three days and I have a fever,” for example. When you call is also important. If you have had a problem for six weeks, and call the doctor at noon on Friday for a same day appointment, your visit is likely to be rushed and you may not get the evaluation you are hoping for.

Take time to think about the problem you have prior to your appointment. This is a common conversation I have: (more…)

How to Respond to a Child’s Fever

D. Paul Robinson, M.D.

By: D. Paul Robinson, M.D.

Pediatricians and family physicians are often called about children with fevers.  In fact, some sources maintain that 30 percent of children’s visits to doctors are regarding fever.  Many of us were taught to be very concerned about fevers.  We have been told that fever can injure the brain, and, therefore, it should be lowered at almost any cost.  What is this condition that causes so much fear in many of our hearts?  Does it really harm the brain?    What should we do when one of our children develops a fever?

First, fever is the body’s natural response to many illnesses, including infections.  When the body is faced with infection, chemical signals released by viruses, bacteria, or our own immune system (called pyrogens) trigger the body to raise its temperature.  This well-designed weapon then engages to fight the infection.  Fever itself is not dangerous. In fact, the body actually has safety mechanisms to keep fever from injuring the brain.  And past studies have found that children allowed to run fever during an illness can improve more quickly than those whose fever was treated!  Therefore, we should think of fever as normal and not be too fearful of it.

Second, there is no relationship between level of fever and severity of illness.  Moreover the same is true of the fever’s response or non-response to fever-lowering drugs.  Therefore, we should look at fever simply as a signal that our child is ill.  Our attention should then turn to how our child is acting.  For example, a child with a 104 degree Fahrenheit temperature who is walking around, talking, drinking, and, yes, complaining, is not of too much concern.  A child with a 101 degree temperature who is lying in bed, acting “out of it”, crying when moved, and not making eye contact is a concern!  Thankfully, the rate of serious bacterial infections has plummeted in the last 20 years, largely due to modern day vaccinations.  This means that, unlike in 1800, for example,  most instances of fever t are now caused by viruses or infections that are less dangerous than in years gone by. (more…)