Atrial Fibrillation Center of Excellence

Patients receiving cardiac ablation treatment at Aurora BayCare have higher success rates, fewer complications, lower readmissions, and reduced need for repeat procedures when compared to national and international outcomes.

Aurora BayCare Medical Center is the first hospital in Wisconsin to receive the American Heart Association’s Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Gold Quality Achievement Award. This award is granted to facilities that demonstrate the highest expertise in diagnosis and patient care.

We provide regularly scheduled support and education groups as well an innovative cardiac yoga program, led by a specialy trained cardiac medical yoga instructor. Based on emerging scientific evidence, our cardiac yoga program is the first program of its kind in Wisconsin.

We are also one of the most active research centers investigating the links between AFib and heart failure. We’re furthering medical advances in heart rhythm care for people around the world, especially our neighbors right here in northeast Wisconsin.

It’s clear: Aurora BayCare’s electrophysiologists are heart rhythm specialists. We offer the latest minimally invasive treatments for AFib and other types of irregular heartbeats.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a disorder that occurs when the heart’s upper chambers beat rapidly and out of sync with the heart’s lower chambers. The condition can cause symptoms such as fatigue and palpitations and could eventually lead to heart failure and/or stroke.

AFib impacts as many at 6 million Americans. The risk of developing atrial fibrillation increases as you age, and people over 40 have a 25% chance of developing AFib in their lifetime. (Some recent studies have positioned the lifetime risk of developing AFib even higher.) People with high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, heart disease, and sleep apnea are also at increased risk for developing this condition.

Risks of Atrial Fibrillation

If you have AFib, your heart is not able to pump blood as efficiently. Over time, this may cause your heart to become enlarged and weak, leading to severe heart failure.

AFib is also a leading cause of stroke in the U.S. In fact, AFib raises a person's risk for stroke by 500%. The good news is that most AFib-related strokes (75%) can be prevented with ongoing care and management.

Because the heart’s chambers aren’t beating properly, blood may not be pumped out of the heart completely with each heartbeat. This blood may then pool and clot before it exits the heart. A blood clot that’s pumped out of the heart can become lodged in an artery in the brain and cause a stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms

AFib symptoms may appear so gradually that you could have difficulty recognizing signs. AFib is commonly associated with symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations, chest discomfort, and decreased tolerance for exercise.

(In a study performed at Aurora BayCare, we found that a majority of patients with both AFib and heart failure do not report heart palpitations.)

Some people with AFib don’t have symptoms or only experience them once in a while. That means AFib can fly under the radar for several years, increasing your risk of stroke. But the faster your AFib is detected, the greater the chance it can be managed appropriately, before it becomes a constant condition. After treatment, when the heart is brought back to a normal rhythm, most patients no longer experience symptoms and their risk of stroke and heart failure is reduced.

Atrial fibrillation can be detected with an electrocardiogram (also called an EKG)—a painless test that records the heart's electrical activity.

Atrial Fibrillation Treatment

Atrial fibrillation is a chronic problem like high blood pressure and requires chronic management. There are several treatment options which can either be used as a stand-alone therapy or in combination. Depending on your risk for stroke, you may require blood thinners (anticoagulants), therapies to control your heart rate, drugs to keep your heart in normal rhythm, or a catheter ablation procedure.

One common treatment option is catheter ablation. This minimally invasive procedure helps manage AFib by silencing small areas of heart tissue responsible for irregular electrical impulses. Aurora BayCare exceeds national quality benchmarks for catheter ablation, with better outcomes like these:

  • High success rate: After ablation, most patients were in normal rhythm, better than other national measures.
  • Reduced need for medication: More patients decreased their use of antiarrhythmic drugs after ablation.
  • Lower complications: The complication rate for patients undergoing ablation at Aurora BayCare is lower that would be expected for patients with similar medical problem.
  • Lower readmissions: Within one month of ablation, fewer of our patients require readmission to the hospital, when compared to other centers performing these procedures.
  • Lower need for repeat procedures: Our post-ablation rate for repeat procedures is lower than national standards. Avoiding repeat procedures means less risk, less pain, and lower costs.

AFib effects everyone differently, and there is no one-size-fits all approach to treat the disease. It’s a complex condition that requires collaborative treatment from your heart care team. Learn more about treatment options for AFib and other arrhythmias.

AFib and Congestive Heart Failure

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) and congestive heart failure frequently occur at the same time. Approximately 50% of people with heart failure have atrial fibrillation.

AFib can lead to heart failure and heart failure puts you at greater risk for AFib. When you have both, your symptoms tend to be worse. While there is no cure for heart failure or atrial fibrillation, these conditions can be managed very effectively, significantly reducing your symptoms.

  • Why AFib Leads to Heart Failure: If you have AFib, your heart beats are irregular and usually faster than normal. Over an extended time, this may weaken or damage your heart muscle. Eventually your heart isn’t strong enough to circulate enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
  • Why Heart Failure Leads to AFib: Your heart’s rhythm is controlled by electrical signals. For those signals to work properly, they need healthy heart tissue. But heart failure can cause the upper chambers (atria) in your heart to stretch. It can also lead to scar tissue or abnormal thickening in the heart. Whether it’s stretched thin or thickened, these abnormal heart tissues can throw off your heart’s electrical signals and trigger AFib.

Research Hub for AFib and Heart Failure

Aurora BayCare is a leading research center for AFib and heart failure. Our mission is to further medical knowledge and enable discoveries that improve treatment for this growing patient group.

We’re investigating the link between the two diseases and how treatment for one condition affects outcomes in the other. With our distinct focus on how the diseases overlap and interact (each worsening the other), we’re able to provide patients with the latest treatment approaches and symptom relief.

Our electrophysiologists are asked to present at scientific conferences to share their findings. New projects in medical big data place us at the forefront of the field and have huge promise for improving heart care.

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