Irregular heart rhythm after open heart surgery is a common occurrence. However, post surgical atrial fibrillation mostly does not last longer than few hours or probably few days. But, if you experience atrial fibrillation once, you are much at risk in the future to experience atrial fibrillation as a chronic problem.
What happens with Atrial Fibrillation?
Sometimes, stress or medication can lead to rapid beating of the heart. While normal heart rate is between 60-100 beats per minute, pain, stress, medicines, trauma and inflammation can lead to irregular impulses in the heart, affecting the rate of contraction of the heart.
This situation is common post-surgery and is usually self-limiting. However, it is important to address the situation before it turns into a long-term illness.
Physical symptoms of atrial fibrillation include chest pain, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, breathlessness and excessive sweating.
Can you prevent Atrial Fibrillation?
There is no established method to prevent atrial fibrillation. However, it is possible to control certain other factors that may help in preventing atrial fibrillation. If you have any medical issue such as high blood pressure or a thyroid issue, discuss it with your doctor before going under the knife. If you have time before surgery, chart a routine with your doctor to strengthen your heart and improve your health. Eating healthy and exercising will go a long way in improving the condition of your heart and minimising post-surgical complications.
Your doctor will also suggest blood tests prior to surgery to identify issues such as high blood sugar, anaemia, electrolyte imbalance or high blood pressure and may prescribe medicines to get these under control.
Another major factor leading to atrial fibrillation is post-surgical stress and it is important to discuss pain management with your doctor to avoid pain and trauma after surgery.
How can you treat Atrial Fibrillation?
Ideally, the heart rhythm should correct on its own after some time. However, in certain cases, medical treatment may be required. There are two ways to treat atrial fibrillation – medication and cardioversion.
Depending on your health and situation, often doctors recommend blood thinners to prevent the formation of clots, an associated risk of atrial fibrillation. Other medications may also be prescribed but most of these medicines have side effects and are not effective in the long run.
Cardioversion is the other option where the physician applies mild electric current to regulate the cardiac rhythm.
What to focus on after heart surgery?
After the surgery, patients are mostly kept on a heart monitor so that their heart rhythm can be monitored constantly. The monitoring staff can immediately pick up any irregularities. Constant monitoring is important; as several patients may not be able to identify symptoms of atrial fibrillation immediately post surgery. A post-operative pain management plan as well as proper medication depending on the patient’s age, medical condition and type of surgery must also be discussed with the physician.
Patients must discuss the occurrence, identification and prevention of atrial fibrillation with their doctors before and after the surgery. Treatment may be required in certain cases. If ignored, the condition can lead to the formation of blood clots that can cause a stroke. Remember, forewarned is forearmed.