Prof Jonathan Lyne
Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology and Consultant Cardiologist & Electrophysiologist – Beacon Hospital
Early diagnosis and treatment of the heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation is key to avoiding more serious cardiac complications as a result of the condition.
Some people may not know they have atrial fibrillation (AF), but others experience fatigue, lack of energy, breathlessness and palpitations. Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist Professor Jonathan Lyne explains that, for patients without symptoms, the condition can be picked up by changes on their wearable devices, such as smartwatches, or in routine medical examinations and preoperative screening.
Who can experience atrial fibrillation?
As a consultant in Beacon Hospital and Blackrock Health in Ireland, Lyne specialises in heart rhythm disorders, diagnosis, treatment and management — including procedures such as catheter ablation and device insertion (pacemakers and defibrillators). He says AF is a common condition in around 10% of people over 80 and 5% over 70 in Ireland. However, AF can also affect younger people.
Drug therapies and ablation treatment
Once diagnosed, treatment options range from drug therapies to ablation. In ablation, a thin wire is passed via a catheter through the blood vessels to the heart. The area of heart muscle identified as causing the issue is then destroyed — using either heat (radiofrequency ablation) or freezing (cryoablation) to create scar tissue, which does not conduct electricity.
Side effects of drug therapies
People with AF have an increased risk of stroke and are assessed for blood thinners or anti-coagulation drugs. Medication can also be used to slow a patient’s heart rate or rhythm, particularly if they have intermittent (paroxysmal) AF. However, Lyne warns: “Rhythm control drugs do not alter progression of disease; some have side effects and require monitoring.
People with AF have an increased risk of stroke and are assessed for blood thinners or anti-coagulation drugs.
“Ablation restores and maintains sinus rhythm, reduces symptoms and significantly improves quality of life for patients.” Patients generally access treatment via referral from cardiologists; GPs who refer directly to an arrhythmia specialist; or self-referral because of increasing awareness or concern.
Valuable resource for arrhythmia and AF
Lyne points to the getsmartaboutafib.ie website as a valuable resource for patients, with tools and information about the condition. It looks at what arrhythmia and AF are, offers information on ablation and recovery and features disease management tools. There is also a section for healthcare professionals.
“It increases awareness and highlights the importance of diagnosis and referral to appropriate specialists and institutions,” says Lyne. “That increased awareness through getsmartaboutafib.ie is important in reducing long-term morbidity and mortality of AF. Managing the condition and getting earlier treatment, such as with ablation, helps avoid complications from AF,” he adds.