There was a time in Jason Henning’s life when riding a bike might have been a challenge due to atrial fibrillation. Today, he’s sharing stories of last summer’s 700-mile bike riding season across Michigan, Florida and Missouri. And he’s making plans for the upcoming 2015 riding season — which includes his fourth Pedal Across Lower Michigan (PALM) ride — confident he’ll be faster and stronger this year.
That’s because Jason recently underwent a catheter ablation at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. He’s hoping the results will show close to 100 improvement in his A-fib condition. Ablation is a minimally invasive, catheter-based procedure performed on an outpatient basis to treat atrial fibrillation.
What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib, is an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that starts in the upper portion (atria) of the heart. A-fib affects more than 5 million Americans and is the most common arrhythmia that leads to hospitalization. It is also the leading cause of stroke. During A-fib, the upper chambers of the heart beat rapidly or erratically in a chaotic way without any effective muscle contraction. A-fib may develop as a result of changes in the heart due to age. Hypertension (high blood pressure), valvular heart disease, coronary artery disease, over-activity of the thyroid gland or excessive alcohol intake may promote A-fib. There can also be a genetic component.
If the atrial fibrillation has been persistent for more than one or two years, almost all patients will require more than one ablation procedure before a normal heart rhythm is restored.
A-fib symptoms may include:
- Fluttering, racing or pounding of the heart
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Feeling out of breath
- Feeling weak and tired
- Chest pain
Jason, now 50, didn’t have any noticeable symptoms, other than feeling tired and finding it more difficult to catch his breath, something he began to realize four years ago. “I just thought I was getting old,” he says. But a visit to his primary doctor resulted in a diagnosis of A-fib. When other treatment methods weren’t successful, Jason was urged by a friend to go to U-M, where he met Dr. Hakan Oral, who recommended catheter ablation.
“My decision to have ablation was a big deal,” Jason recalls. But the improvement he’s realized in his health has made it worthwhile. “I went from having full-time A-fib to just one minute of flutter (arrhythmia) over the span of a week,” he says.
Jason is feeling stronger than ever. He credits the U-M team and Dr. Oral for his improved endurance, which he’s hopeful will prepare him for a much-anticipated 2015 riding season. “Without ablation, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” he says.
“Dr. Oral is incredible. My friend was right: He’s the guy I wanted. He has the tools and the technique. And the credentials of the hospital are amazing.”
Take the next step:
- Read frequently asked questions about catheter ablation.
- Hear more heart patient stories – up close and personal – this Friday, Feb. 13, by attending the Faces of Cardiovascular Disease event.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.