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Published on February 22, 2016

Lawrence woman’s advice: listen to your body

By Janice Early

When Lawrence resident Joanne (Jo) Edman, 76, was just a child, she decided she wanted to be healthy with a positive attitude. Learning she had a thyroid condition didn’t change anything, because that early decision had become a way of life for her. Imagine her surprise when a yearly physical in 1997 ended with open heart surgery for mitral valve prolapse, a heart valve abnormality.

Edman’s positive attitude prevailed and she recovered and maintained her healthy lifestyle and healthy outlook. But in 2014, again feeling healthy but to allay her husband’s concerns that something didn’t seem quite right with her, Edman registered for a routine heart risk assessment at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. That simple assessment quickly became much more.

Edman learned she had atrial fibrillation and was rushed to the intensive care unit and she underwent a cardioconversion, a medical procedure that is used to restore a normal heart rhythm when the patient is experiencing a fast, irregular heartbeat.

Atrial fibrillation, known as atrial fibrillation or A-fib, is a quivering or fluttering of the heart or an irregular heartbeat that affects 2.7 million Americans. It is the most common form of abnormal heart rhythm. Knowing the symptoms and treatment options for atrial fibrillation can help you address an issue before it’s too late.

People with atrial fibrillation are four to five times more likely to experience a stroke, according to Dr. Elizabeth Guastello, a board-certified cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists of Lawrence who was the featured speaker along with Edman at the Lawrence Go Red for Women luncheon on Feb. 12.

Dr. Guastello noted that some estimates are that 15 to 20 percent of all strokes are attributable to atrial fibrillation. As a result of an irregular heartbeat, blood can pool in the heart leading to blood clots. These clots can be carried through the blood to the brain, causing a stroke. Though atrial fibrillation can occur at almost any age, the incidence begins to double each decade after the age of 55.

Atrial fibrillation is associated with many conditions, Dr. Guastello said, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease (blockages in the heart's arteries)
  • Heart valve disease
  • Previous heart surgery
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopathy (disease of heart muscle that causes heart failure)
  • Congenital heart disease (heart disease present at birth)
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in lungs)

Sometimes people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and their condition is only detectable upon physical examination. Still, others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • General fatigue
  • Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Faintness or confusion
  • Fatigue when exercising
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure

“The tricky thing about atrial fibrillation is that many of the signs for atrial fibrillation are similar to those of a heart attack,” she said. The key difference is the palpitations or fluttering that can sometimes indicate atrial fibrillation.

It is important to note that chest pain or pressure may indicate that you are having a heart attack. Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one is experiencing chest pain or pressure.

Treatment for atrial fibrillation may require very minimal treatment or lifestyle changes, medications or a medical procedure. Some simple lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet, reduction in salt intake, quitting smoking, reducing stress or limiting alcohol and caffeine may help with atrial fibrillation.

Rate control, rhythm control and blood thinning medications are frequent treatment options for people with atrial fibrillation. If a doctor prescribes blood thinning medication, it’s important to have clotting levels checked at regular intervals, so dosage can be adjusted as needed.

There are a variety of procedures physicians may suggest to help with atrial fibrillation including electrical cardioversion, catheter ablation with implantation of a pacemaker, and surgery.

Cardiovascular Specialists of Lawrence offers Take Heart, a heart risk assessment tool to help assess and manage heart health. This is the assessment Edman had that revealed her atrial fibrillation. There are two heart risk assessment options to identify individual risk factors for heart disease. Both include lab work, body measurements, educational materials, nutrition and exercise recommendations, as well as a private consultation with a health provider from Cardiovascular Specialists. There is a fee for the heart risk assessment and no referral is required.

To schedule a heart risk assessment, call 785-505-3636, go online to or talk to your primary care provider. After your assessment, results are reported to your primary care provider.

Edman encouraged everyone at the Go Red luncheon to take care of themselves and listen to their bodies as well as their families and friends if they express concern. If you’d like to learn more about Edman’s story, view her “Stay for Life” video at

Janice Early, MBA, is Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at

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