Living with Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

The summer of 2020 was one filled with wildfire smoke. One August afternoon, Bonnie L. had just finished a day with her horses when she noticed her heart beating very quickly. She dismissed the symptoms, thinking it would get better on its own.  A few days later, when she was still experiencing rapid heartbeats, her spouse took her to the Jefferson Healthcare Emergency Department. Bonnie was diagnosed with AFib plus Tachycardia (for adults, this means her heart was beating irregularly and over 100 beats per minute).

Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib, is an abnormal heart rhythm and is the most common type of sustained arrhythmia. Typically, the heart contracts and relaxes in a steady, rhythmic pattern. With atrial fibrillation, random electrical activity occurs, causing quivering or twitching and creating an irregular rhythm. This prevents the atria from properly contracting.   As a result, the blood pools in the atria which increases the risk of clotting.  If this clot breaks loose and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.

People with atrial fibrillation have a substantially higher risk of stroke than those without.

Shortly after Bonnie visited the Emergency Department, she scheduled an appointment with Dr. Torres in the Jefferson Healthcare Cardiology Clinic. Together, they reviewed her history. Bonnie didn’t drink or smoke, hadn’t eaten meat since she was a teenager, she was active and exercised regularly, considering these factors and her symptoms, they decided to try medication to control the AFib. Initially, the palpitations subsided, and she continued her everyday activities and even went on vacation.


By December 2020, however, medication was controlling only the fast heart rate and not the AFib. Bonnie and her cardiology team decided electrical cardioversion was the next step in her journey.  Non-emergency cardioversions are effectively used to treat arrhythmias and restore a regular rhythm to the heart.


After the procedure, her heart stabilized, and she could stop taking the AFib medication but remained on medication for high blood pressure. A year later, she had a second electrical cardioversion and went back onto medication, and more recently, she had her third cardioversion. Throughout it all, she’s relied on the board-certified cardiologist and supportive staff at Jefferson Healthcare. “I am very comfortable with Dr. Torres and the cardiology team in my treatment.  I trust them to give me the best guidance.”

Bonnie is a 67-year-old resident of Jefferson County.  She continues to enjoy an active, healthy lifestyle and spends about six hours a day at her horse farm in Port Townsend.  She had no previous health issues before her AFib diagnosis, although there could be a family history, as her mother had congestive heart failure.  She hasn’t made any lifestyle changes since her diagnosis since there wasn’t much she could change.

Bonnie continues her medication and has regularly scheduled appointments with her cardiology team at Jefferson Healthcare. “The cardiology team was very helpful in understanding AFib.  In my case, there’s really no specific reason my heart does this,” said Bonnie.


While some people with AFib may feel no symptoms at all, these are the most common:

  • Palpitations, an increased awareness of your heartbeat skipped beats, fluttering in the chest, or a rapid, irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain or pressure, tightness or discomfort in the chest
  • Confusion
  • Weakness

Risk Factors

You are at higher risk for AFib, if you are/have:

  • Over 60 years of age
  • Heart disease including valve problems, congenital heart disease, and congestive heart failure
  • A history of heart attack or heart surgery
  • Uncontrolled blood pressure
  • Thyroid disease
  • Untreated sleep apnea
  • Excessive alcohol or stimulant use
  • Obesity
  • A family history of atrial fibrillation
  • Other chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or lung disease
  • Chronic lung disease
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