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Atrial fibrillation can cause stroke, but treatments can help

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The irregular heart rhythm is called atrial fibrillation or a-fib, and more than 2 million Americans have it. (Source: CNN) The irregular heart rhythm is called atrial fibrillation or a-fib, and more than 2 million Americans have it. (Source: CNN)

(CNN) - Stroke continues to be a leading cause of long-term disability in the U.S. It is also the fourth leading cause of death.

One of the main risk factors for stroke is atrial fibrillation.

The human heart, on average, beats 100,000 times a day. But as people age, so does their cardiac system, and the heart can begin to beat erratically.

The irregular heart rhythm is called atrial fibrillation or a-fib, and more than 2 million Americans have it.

"What happens is small little clots can form in the top part of the heart, which isn't squeezing very well, and then they get pushed out the main pumping chamber and can go up the neck and into the head and cause a stroke," said Dr. Warren Levy of Virginia Heart.

When Richard Hamner's heart began to flutter, he knew something was wrong.

"I started developing very rapid heartbeat, and I went into the hospital right away for it," he said. "I didn't know what was going on"

Hamner was diagnosed with a-fib. He tried medication like blood thinners, but he didn't like the side effects. Eventually, he chose to have his heart shocked back into rhythm. The procedure is called an advanced ablation.

"The advanced ablation therapies are extremely successful," Levy said. "About 80 to 90 percent of patients will no longer have atrial fibrillation after one of these procedures."

Now Hamner doesn't feel any of the side-effects he had before, and his heart is back to a normal beat.

"It's like a miracle," he said.

There are other treatments for a-fib. It all depends on the severity. Check with your doctor if you have trouble sleeping, have a rapid heartbeat and are abnormally tired. A good cardiologist can help.

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