George noticed a pain and tightness in his chest whilst driving one day, and the following night felt unwell when he went to bed. The next morning he went to A&E and was diagnosed with AF. He takes aspirin, amiodarone & propranolol.
Eight years ago George had a painful condition in his heel and his doctor advised him to elevate it. He later had a DVT. Once he had recovered from the DVT and returned to work, he noticed one day whilst driving that he had a pain and tightness in his chest. The following evening when lying down to go to sleep he felt unwell, and after a sleepless night he went to A&E at his local hospital. He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and the doctor explained to him what this was. He was transferred to a larger hospital and was put on an amiodarone drip, and when asleep that night, his heart returned to a normal rhythm. He was prescribed bisoprolol and took this medication for around a year. However, George felt that he had some unanswered questions and decided to see a private cardiologist.
George continued to have episodes of AF, and each time would ask to be admitted to hospital. His AF usually started during the night and would wake him up, as he would experience a thumping sensation in his chest and could feel he had an irregular pulse. He would also get very cold and need to urinate more often when in AF. George lives in Northern Ireland, and has always been advised that he should present himself at the hospital before his AF had continued for 48 hours, as after that he may need to have a cardioversion to try and restore the normal rhythm of the heart. George would usually wait 24 hours at home with AF, and if he was still experiencing an episode at that time, he would go to hospital. He would then be given a one hour amiodarone drip; if that was not successful, he would then have a 23 hour drip. On all but one occasion (when George was diagnosed with acute glaucoma), his heart has reverted to normal sinus rhythm after 24 hours of drip, usually whilst he was asleep. George has also had an injection and tablets instead of a drip on some visits. Once when George was on holiday in England he went to A&E during an episode of AF, and says that he was told to come back if he was still having AF in six weeks time.
George has tried a number of medications including sotalol and slozem, but found that his body adjusted to the dose and they stopped working as effectively. He now takes amiodarone (200mg once a day), propranolol (20 mg twice a day), and aspirin to reduce his risk of stroke. George experiences side effects from the amiodarone such as sensitivity to the sun, and needs to wear a hat when outside. He also has regular blood tests to check his thyroid, liver and kidney function. George stopped drinking tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol. He also finds that banana can give him palpitations, and stopped eating ice cream, chocolate and lemon after he was diagnosed with AF. He remembers when he was younger having palpitations after drinking alcohol. George is also interested to know whether the DVT and his glaucoma were connected to developing AF in any way.
George says he feels very anxious and disappointed when he has an episode of AF, wondering whether he did something to bring it on, and wanting the episode to end. He is concerned about having a stroke, and when he learned that he had a condition to do with his heart, he decided that he did not want to return to work and retired. He says that he recognises that AF will not kill him, but finds the unpredictability and sudden nature of his episodes distressing. He also feels exhausted after an episode, which he feels must be because his heart has been working so hard. George is pleased to have not had an episode of AF for six months now, although is aware of his heart missing some beats at times.
George had never heard of AF when he was diagnosed, and feels that with an ageing population, awareness of the condition should be raised. He feels that prevention of stroke (through identifying people with AF and putting them on anticoagulation) is better than caring for someone once they have had a stroke. George is very happy with the care he has received from the NHS, feeling they have never made small’ of his case. He has found information from the Atrial Fibrillation Association useful, as well as speaking to a British Heart Foundation nurse on the telephone. He advises people with AF that it can be annoying and unpleasant to have AF, but it is something that can be lived with. I live a good, full, active and free life. And so don’t let it tie you up and worry you.’
Interview held 19.9.12