Healthwatch 16: Detecting AFib

SCRANTON -- We continue talking about your heart in Healthwatch 16, both because February is heart month and because so many doctors say that cardiac issues are a big problem in this area.

George Hunter, 65, of Tafton, is a former firefighter and mill worker who has been exposed to a lot of smoke and asbestos.

"I was working, cutting wood at home, and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't really do anything. I thought I was having lung issues," Hunter recalled.

"I probably ignored some symptoms, and then it got to the point I couldn't do anything anymore."

But there was nothing wrong with George's lungs, according to Dr. Wilson Young, director of electrophysiology at Geisinger Cardiology in Scranton.

George had atrial fibrillation, or AFib, an irregular, sometimes rapid heartbeat.

"Your upper chamber of the heart is sort of just quivering. It's not really squeezing. This can lead to poor circulation in that upper chamber," Dr. Young explained.

That means blood can get pooled in the upper chamber, which increases your risk of a clot or a stroke.

Dr. Wilson says George is one of the lucky ones, part of a small percentage who can actually feel that something's wrong.

"There are some people who, the first sign of AFib is a stroke, and that's unfortunate."

George is now being treated for AFib. He's on a blood thinner for now after having a procedure called an ablation.

"We put little burns around those pulmonary veins and prevent the electrical signals from entering," said Dr. Wilson.

And he'll soon have a second procedure to implant a monitoring device so doctors can know what's happening, but he says he's feeling good.

"I feel fine, now. I really do."

Our risk of developing AFib increases as we age, and Dr. Young points out, after age 50, your risk goes up every decade.