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Dr Matthew Ginks on Atrial Fibrillation

We recently took the time to talk to Dr Matthew Ginks, an experienced consultant cardiologist who practices at The New Foscote Hospital. Dr Matthew Ginks specialises in cardiology and sub-specialises in general cardiology, heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmia) and cardiac electrophysiology. We asked Dr Matthew Ginks to share his knowledge and thoughts on atrial fibrillation, a common heart condition that causes an irregular and sometimes abnormally fast heart rate.

Can you tell us what atrial fibrillation is?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting one in four people at some stage in their life.

In health, blood comes back to the heart from the body and the lungs and is received by the upper collecting chambers (the atria). These are stimulated by an electrical impulse which naturally arises from the sinus node (in the right atrium) at a rate of 60-100 beats per minute. The atria give a small contractile kick which helps to fill the pumping chambers (the ventricles) before they pump the blood out of the heart.

AF is a heart rhythm disturbance that occurs when the electrical activity in the upper chambers becomes chaotic. This leads to an irregular (and usually more rapid) heartbeat.

What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

Symptoms related to AF vary greatly between individuals. Some people can be unaware that their heart is out of rhythm, whereas some people suffer from a huge impact on their quality of life. Symptoms can include palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and lethargy. AF also increases the risk of developing heart failure or having a stroke.

What are the causes of atrial fibrillation?

In some people, AF is related to a structural heart problem such as heart valve disease or coronary artery disease. It can be related to high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or other medical problems such as having an overactive thyroid. It is also more common in people who are drinking too much alcohol. In some people, there is no obvious cause found for AF developing.

How can it be treated?

There are three main priorities in treating people with AF.

  • Making sure the heart is normal in structure and pumping function; this is usually done with an ultrasound scan.
  • Addressing the risk of stroke. An individualised assessment of stroke risk is needed. Some people require blood-thinning medication. Where needed, this greatly reduces the risk of having a stroke.
  • Symptom improvement. This can be achieved using medication in many people. Some people have troublesome symptoms despite tablet treatment, and then catheter ablation can be considered. This is a procedure that I perform. The aim is to abolish AF and improve quality of life as a result.

What happens during these treatments?

Catheter ablation can be done as a day case procedure, either under local anaesthetic with sedation or under general anaesthetic. Several catheters (electrical wires which can be manipulated from outside) are passed from the vein at the top of the leg and from there up to the heart. We then treat the areas giving rise to AF by either cauterising or freezing localised areas on the inside surface of the heart. This procedure usually takes around 2 hours. The success rate depends on the type of AF (whether it comes and goes or whether the AF is there all of the time) and how long someone has had AF for. You can read more about the procedure, with links to further information here.

Would you like to talk to Dr Matthew Ginks?

If you feel like you would benefit from a consultation with Dr Matthew Ginks regarding Atrial Fibrillation or any other cardiovascular problem, please do not hesitate to contact us by calling 01295 252281 or emailing us on Alternatively, you can use the contact form here. Dr Matthew Ginks runs clinics on Tuesday evenings from 6-9pm.