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NBC's Parenthood Brings 'A-fib' symptoms into prime time

Posted on Mar. 15, 2012 ( comments)
On NBC's
In a recent "Parenthood" episode on NBC (starting five minutes into the episode), the patriarch character, Zeek Braverman (played by Craig T. Nelson), was diagnosed with “A-fib” and tried to keep the news from his family.

For many viewers unfamiliar with A-fib, the diagnosis may have sparked some curiosity about how the character and family will be affected. For viewers affected by A-fib, the fictional diagnosis hit close to reality.

So, what exactly is A-fib?

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib or AF) is a common arrhythmia that is not life threatening and more of a nuisance rhythm. The majority of people with AF do not have symptoms. However, some feel palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pain. Although alcohol has been shown to contribute to AF occurrences, interestingly caffeine has not.

The hallmark of this condition is an irregularly irregular pulse. The irregular pulse is often a fast rhythm, but the heartbeat may stay in normal range.

The most worrisome aspect of AF is that some patients may be at increased risk of stroke, but this risk can be mitigated with blood thinners for high-risk patients. Sleep apnea appears to be strongly correlated to AF, and patients should consider screening for this condition.

Although there is no permanent cure for AF, there are many treatment options for patients with AF, including medications and surgery that can often manage AF symptoms. Some patients who undergo surgery for AF appear to remain free from AF for many years.

AF can be anxiety provoking, but with education and appropriate treatment patients can manage this condition with minimal impact on their lives.

What does this all mean for Zeek? Like many AF patients, he can minimize AF occurrences just like patients do in real life by managing high blood pressure and weight and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise. We’ll be watching to see how he follows the doctor’s orders!

Tariq Salam, MD, is a Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist at MultiCare Health System.

Posted in: Cardiac

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Dr. Tariq Salam
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