Until very recently, people in the Augusta Health community suffering an abnormal heart rhythm — or arrhythmia — didn’t have a dedicated place to go to get immediate, efficient help. That changed in March when Augusta Health opened the Acute Arrhythmia Clinic. Cardiac electrophysiologist Glenn Brammer, MD, is overseeing the clinic, which is staffed with physician assistants and nurses trained in arrhythmia treatment.
What is it?
Arrhythmia is a term that encompasses any change in the heart’s proper rhythm. Normally, electrical impulses control the heart’s function. When those impulses misfire, they can send the normal rhythm off-kilter, making the heart beat too quickly, too slowly or erratically. A major risk of untreated arrhythmia is stroke, which can be disabling or fatal.
Around 5 million people a year suffer from the most common form of arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, or AFib, says Dr. Brammer, and that number is growing — likely due to the overall aging of the population. “We saw two trends: an increase in AFib cases, and a lack of focused care,” he notes. “So with the clinic, we are trying to meet the challenge head-on.”
The goal of the clinic is to cut out the delays patients typically face when they head to the ER, urgent care or their primary care doctor when they feel the fluttering, rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath that are hallmark symptoms of AFib. At a dedicated clinic, expert care is immediately available, which may help patients avoid unnecessary or repeated hospital admission.
Risk of stroke
The most pressing risk with AFib is stroke, which is why patients are typically given a blood thinner to prevent that possibility. Warfarin (Coumadin) is commonly given to AFib patients, but it can take several days before patients are stabilized on this older-line blood thinner, says Dr. Brammer. “We have new medications that work faster, and in the clinic we have expert care — we’re certified in electrophysiology — and are aware of the latest research,” he says. All that, it is hoped, will ease the burden on both patients and hospitals of lengthy waits and pricey, disruptive hospital stays.
The only clinic of its kind in the area, the Acute Arrhythmia Clinic is open Monday to Friday. “We are prepared to see three or four patients a day right now, but we hope that will grow as more people hear about us and doctors refer their patients to us,” says Dr. Brammer.
Learn more about the Augusta Health Heart and Vascular Center and the signs and symptoms of heart disease at augustahealth.com/heart.