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Morristown Medical Center’s Dr. Stephen Winters Discusses What Everyone Should Know About Atrial Fibrillation

September 17, 2020

Raises public awareness about this increasingly common
heart disorder

SEPTEMBER 17, 2020, Morristown, NJ – September is National Atrial Fibrillation Month, and Stephen L. Winters, MD, director of the Cardiac Rhythm Management Program, Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute, Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center, wants the public to know some surprising facts about this increasingly common heart condition.

Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib or AF, is the most common type of treated heart arrhythmia. It causes the heart to beat too slowly, too quickly, or in an irregular way. People with AFib can feel symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and chest pain—or may have no symptoms at all. This serious condition contributes to about 158,000 deaths each year.

“Atrial fibrillation is a serious heart condition, but the good news is, the earlier we catch it, the more likely that we will be able to control it and even prevent it from getting worse,” said Dr. Winters. “AFib can be treated with medicines to control the heart’s rhythm and rate, and prevent blood clotting that can cause stroke. Minimally invasive catheter ablation, surgery and adopting healthy lifestyle changes are also used to treat AFib.”

Dr. Winters shares these facts about atrial fibrillation:

  • An estimated 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects that nearly 12.1 million Americans will have AFib in 2030.
  • AFib can affect all ages, however, the prevalence of AFib increases with age, afflicting about 10% of the population by 80 years of age.
  • It can occur in the absence of any other health problem.
  • Certain risk factors increase the odds of developing atrial fibrillation, however. These include: advancing age, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart failure, ischemic heart disease, hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, sleep apnea, moderate to heavy alcohol use, smoking and enlargement of the chambers on the left side of the heart.
  • There is a fivefold increase in the risk of stroke for patients with AFib. Strokes caused by AFib tend to be more severe than strokes with other underlying causes.
  • Anticoagulant drugs are used to keep stroke-causing blood clots from forming. 
    • According to the most recent joint guidelines of the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and Heart Rhythm Society, direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) are recommended, in the absence of structural heart abnormalities (problems with heart muscle or valves). DOACS include apixaban (Eliquis), dabigatran (Pradaxa), edoxaban (Savaysa) and rivaroxaban (Xarelto).
    • Warfarin (Coumadin), indicated for those with accompanying structural heart abnormalities, carries with it a number of risks and requires regular blood tests and dietary restrictions.
  • Dr. Winters and other experts recommend that everyone learn how to check their pulse to see if it is regular or irregular, and check it at least once a month, as AFib can come and go.
  • At-home commercial electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring devices (Apple Watch and AliveCor’s KardiaMobile) can be helpful for self-monitoring, although these devices are not always as accurate as an ECG performed in a physician’s office. These self-monitoring devices can actually print out ECG results.
  • Early treatment is recommended, as the disease will progress with time. Various treatment options, depending on risk factors, include:
    • Rate control medications, such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and cardiac glycosides;
    • Rhythm control medications, including dofetilide (Tikosyn), flecainide (Tambocor), propafenone (Rythmol), quinidine, sotalol (Betapace), amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone) and dronedarone (Multaq);
    • Lifestyle modifications, such as relaxation, weight reduction, structured exercise, blood pressure and diabetes control and sleep apnea management; 
    • Catheter ablation and surgery, which can eliminate the abnormal electrical signals in the heart that cause atrial fibrillation;
    • Anticoagulation drugs, which delay the time it takes for the blood to clot.
  • While AFib does not always have to be treated, it should always be evaluated by a cardiologist or cardiac electrophysiologist—a cardiologist who has received additional training in the heart’s electrical system.

To view a recent Facebook Live discussion of atrial fibrillation, featuring Dr. Winters and Jonathan S. Sussman, MD, director, Atrial Fibrillation Intervention Program, Morristown Medical Center, click here.

About Heart Care at Atlantic Health System

Morristown Medical Center, the hub of heart care at Atlantic Health System, is one of the top 40 programs in the country for Cardiology & Cardiac Surgery (U.S. News & World Report) and one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Cardiac Care (Healthgrades).

Its expert team presents research across the world and is comprised of interventional cardiologists, electrophysiologists, heart failure experts, advanced imagers and cardiac surgeons.

The program also offers specialty care in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, sports cardiology, cardio-oncology, pediatric cardiology, and heart disease in women. The team works closely with community cardiologists who provide a medical home for patients with heart disease.

Atlantic Health System Heart Care is focused on offering minimally invasive and non-invasive procedures that help patients return to their lives faster. The state’s largest valve replacement/repair program offers valve therapy options for the aortic, mitral, and tricuspid valves, and is helping advance the radial (wrist) approach for coronary procedures with a new lounge for post-procedure recovery.

Morristown Medical Center is home to the largest cardiac surgery and invasive cardiology programs in New Jersey and offers the most up-to-date cardiac imaging technologies available.

About Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health System has a long-standing tradition of providing exceptional patient outcomes and experiences. Home to seven award-winning hospitals including Morristown Medical Center, the number one hospital in NJ according to U.S. News & World Report, Castle Connolly and Newsweek’s World’s Best Hospitals, the system has been ranked first in New Jersey in consumer preference by Monigle and first among health systems in New Jersey as a “best workplace” by both Modern Healthcare and Fortune Magazine. Many of the system’s programs have received national accolades and designations, including Morristown Medical Center’s Cardiology and Heart Surgery program ranked among the top 30 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report; Morristown Medical Center’s Orthopedics program ranked among the top 35 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report and Atlantic Health System’s Cancer Care program, New Jersey’s first and only National Cancer Institute National Community Oncology Research Program. Additionally, Atlantic Health System Neuroscience at Overlook Medical Center, working with Atlantic Mobile Health, was the first in the nation to deploy and use portable Telestroke technology in ambulances for routine pre-hospital assessment of stroke patients.

Powered by a passionate workforce of 17,000 team members and 4,800 affiliated physicians dedicated to building healthier communities, Atlantic Health System serves more than half of the state of New Jersey, including 11 counties and 4.9 million people. The system provides care for the full continuum of health needs across a wide array of settings, including Atlantic Medical Group, one of the largest multi-specialty practices in New Jersey with more than 1,000 physicians and providers, 12 urgent care centers, Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute, Atlantic Home Care and Hospice and Atlantic Anywhere’s Virtual Visits. Facilitating connections between these services on both land and air is the transportation fleet of Atlantic Mobile Health.
With a clear sense of purpose and an unparalleled culture, Atlantic Health System attracts top leaders in the field of health care, from CEO Brian Gragnolati, who was Chairman of the American Hospital Association in 2019, to the numerous team members who serve as leaders across national clinical associations and research entities.