In each issue, we'll ask a doctor from your community to answer a frequently asked health question
Q: My pulse is sometimes irregular or fast. Is this dangerous?
A: There is a broad range of arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms) that might disturb the normal tick-tock of the pulse. Some arrhythmias are benign, but others, as they progress, can lead to atrial fibrillation (AF), a potentially dangerous condition in which the top chambers of the heart suddenly quiver helplessly instead of squeezing blood forward, and where the usual tick-tock pulse becomes fast and irregular.
With a nearly 1-in-4 chance of someone experiencing AF over the course of one’s lifetime, AF is not only the most common heart rhythm abnormality, but also one of the most commonly encountered diseases in medicine today. Unless properly treated, patients with AF are five times more likely to suffer a stroke, as there is a greater risk of blood clots forming in the upper chambers when AF occurs. While age is perhaps the strongest risk factor, others include hypertension, genetics, valvular heart disease, obesity, alcohol consumption, stress, poor sleep habits, and diet.
Those experiencing common symptoms such as marked fatigue, chest palpitations, shortness of breath, and/or anxiety, are likely to be promptly diagnosed, but in cases where symptoms are absent, AF becomes a “silent killer,” creating a high stroke risk. Check your pulse rate regularly; if there are abrupt and inappropriate changes in your heart rate, or if your pulse is sometimes irregular, notify your physician, as a comprehensive range of medical treatments for AF is available.
Nathan Segerson, MD, FACC, FHRS,is a board-certified electrophysiologist specializing in cardiology, cardiovascular disease, and heart rhythm disorders. Dr. Segerson sees patients at Kitsap Cardiology Consultants.