I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) in November 2012 and I remember it very clearly. I was working away from home and I thought I was having a heart attack. I was rushed to accident and emergency in an ambulance and the doctors there said ‘you know you’ve got AF?’ they gave me no explanation, just that it was an irregular heartbeat.
I had a number of tests, an ECG (electrocardiography) which records the electrical activity of the heart, plus a blood test to check that I hadn’t had a heart attack and a cardiogram with a ventricular dye. I was then passed over to the cardiac department but left to wait for hours and not seen, I’m not proud of it but I discharged myself. I felt terrible, I thought I was going to die, I had no idea what AF was and I thought it was fatal.
A couple of days later I went to see my GP who performed another ECG on me and having never seen a patient in persistent AF they referred me to the Urgent Chest Pain Clinic. The nurse there was fantastic, she explained what AF was and all the tests they were doing. I had another ECG, blood tests, dye cardiogram and an echocardiogram, which looks at the structure of your heart and the heart valves, and also gives information on the function and pumping action of your heart; two weeks after that I saw a cardiologist.
Shortly after seeing the cardiologist I started receiving treatment for my AF. I was put on drugs to control my heart rate plus warfarin, which is an anticoagulant that will help reduce my risk of getting an AF-related stroke, a common complication of AF. I also take an aspirin for a high calcium count and a statin, to lower my cholesterol. I also had a cardioversion which is a procedure that aims to get your abnormal heart rhythm back to normal. Unfortunately mine failed so at present I am continuing on the drugs, very happy that my stroke risk is reduced.
I now have my AF under control and at the age of 60, I’m still working as an accountant and getting on with my life. I get tired in the afternoons and breathless going up hills when walking, but other than that, I lead a normal, active life.
I would encourage anyone with AF not to ignore your symptoms; I ignored mine and became depressed and inactive for a long while prior to my diagnosis, and I had a torrid couple of weeks immediately after. It’s really important to have support from people who are in the same situation as you. I regularly use the use AF Association’s HealthUnlocked forum to post questions and gain advice and support from those who also have the condition.