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UPDATE: Latest Garfield County COVID-19 statistics and risk level

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 statistics and risk level


Cumulative cases: 6,209 (+9 since last update)

Deaths since outbreak began: 43 confirmed

Current Risk Level: Yellow-Concern

Recent 7-day case totals: June 17-23 – 50; June 10-16 – 48; June 3-9 – 50

Two-week daily case average: 6.86

Single-day high: 101 on 12/10/20

7-day incidence rate: 83.1 per 100,000 people

7-day test positivity rate: 6.5% (14-day: 6.5%)

7-day hospitalization rate: 8%

Vaccines administered (as of 6/17): 54,517 (30,065 first doses; 24,452 second doses; 52% of eligible population fully vaccinated; 60% have first dose)

Source: Garfield County Public Health


Valley View Hospital, as of 6/22/2021

Specimens collected through Valley View Hospital: 28,242 (+853 since 6/1)

Positive results: 2,183 (+20 since 6/1)

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 275 (2 new since 6/15)

Grand River Hospital, as of 6/22/2021

Specimens collected through Grand River Health: 8,614 (+88 since 6/15)

Positive results: 1,365 (+35 since 6/15)

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 54 (0 new since 6/15)

Source: Hospital statistics released weekly on Tuesday


(6/23 Update)

AeroCare Holdings Inc., Silt: Date determined, 5/5; 4 staff cases.

Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home, Rifle: Date new outbreak determined, 4/9; 5 resident, 8 staff cases.

FedEx Ground, Glenwood Springs: Date determined, 6/16; 7 staff cases.

Garfield County Detention Center, Glenwood Springs: Date determined, 4/7; 21 inmates, 14 staff cases.

Grand River Health Care Center, Rifle: Date determined, 6/23; 2 staff cases.

Heritage Park Care Center, Carbondale: Date determined, 5/20; 5 resident, 6 staff cases.

New Creation Preschool, New Castle: Date determined, 5/28; 4 staff, 4 attendee cases.

Renew Roaring Fork, Glenwood Springs: Date determined, 6/10; 2 resident, 3 staff cases.

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment Covid-19 outbreak data page

Doctor’s Tip: Broccoli can help with autism symptoms

Autism is defined as “a complex neurologic and developmental disorder that affects how a person acts, communicates, learns and interacts with others.” It’s more common in boys, 1½% of American children are diagnosed with it, and the incidence appears to be increasing.

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes autism, but according to Dr. Greger in a recent video on nutritionfacts.org, this much is known:

• When autistic children develop a fever, the symptoms disappear as long as the fever lasts. This is thought to be due to “heat shock proteins” that are released by the brain when body temperature rises. These proteins improve the synaptic transmission from one brain cell to the next, which is abnormal in autism.

• The brain is vulnerable to harmful oxidation, and excessive oxidation is present in the brains of autistic children.

• The power centers of cells, called mitochondria, are dysfunctional in autistic children.

• Autistic kids have excessive brain inflammation.

Currently there are no medications that help autism. However, there is a group of plant foods that help: cruciferous vegetables, which include cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, collard greens, mustard greens, radish, turnip greens and watercress. Broccoli sprouts in particular have been shown to increase heat shock proteins and improve synaptic function in the brain; increase Nrf2, the master regulator of antioxidant production in the body; restore metabolic balance to mitochondria in cells; and reduce brain inflammation.

A group of autistic kids was studied. Half were given placebo capsules and the other half similar-looking capsules containing broccoli sprouts. At the end of the study, the placebo group showed no improvement in symptoms but the sprout group demonstrated significant improvement. Why sprouts? Because sprouts have 10 times the micronutrients as mature broccoli.

The compound in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, that causes improvement in autism is sulforaphane. Cruciferous vegetables contain a precursor, and conversion to sulforaphane requires an enzyme called myrosinase, which is destroyed by cooking. Therefore, cruciferous vegetables should be eaten raw, or, if cooked, one of the following three strategies can be used: 1) Eat some raw cruciferous vegetable before eating the cooked. 2) Chop up the cruciferous vegetables at least 40 minutes before you cook them, which allows the enzyme to release the sulforaphane. 3) Eat the cooked cruciferous vegetables with a raw one such as horse radish, wasabi or mustard.

Interestingly, broccoli in powder or supplement form isn’t effective. As is so often the case, only the whole plant food works.

Bottom line: If you have a child with autism, consider giving him or her one to three cups (depending on age and size) of broccoli sprouts every day. And we should all be eating cruciferous vegetables every day for other reasons: prevention of several kinds of cancer; brain protection; preservation of eyesight; reduction of inflammation; reduction of allergies; and management of type 2 diabetes.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally through lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.


Dr. Feinsinger is offering 1½ hour grocery store shopping sessions where he shows how to make healthy food choices. By appointment; call 379-5718.

Torres column: Happiness is the goal

When parents at an elementary school were asked what they wanted for their children, what did they reply? Love? Money? Fame? Recognition? Health? Awards? Happiness? More than 95% choose “happiness,” because happiness is not created by love, money, fame, recognition, health or awards. It’s the result of complex events and interpretations.

I’ve studied many books, by authors like Jocy Meyers, Anthony Robbins, Napoleon Hills, Albert Einstein and Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sanchez, about how to release one’s potential, how to achieve happiness, how to live to the fullest and how to empower one’s life. To achieve these things is complex and involves self-awareness, personal security, adequate knowledge, progress towards one’s goals, a sense of purpose, finding the good things in life and being able to control one’s thoughts.

Since my passion is teaching health and weight loss, I’m going to focus on this aspect of “happiness.” Many develop diseases and have problems with weight gain because of their lifestyle. This often consists of bad food choices and behaviors and an inactive lifestyle. A person’s choices and actions create a negative lifestyle for them, which leads to negative results and situations, which do not contribute to human happiness.

Wonderfully, we have free will in our lives. Sometimes when people notice that their lifestyle is going in the wrong direction, they choose to start making better choices to better achieve happiness. In fact, “Happiness is the Goal” (a book in Spanish that I’m reading) states that happiness is actually not a long-term goal but can be an everyday goal.

“Happiness is the Goal” explains that to achieve our daily goal of happiness we usually have to do some uncomfortable but constructive things. In other words, discipline makes us happy. Odd sounding, I know, but true. The book continues talking about the importance of being fit.

An example of this can be seen at Custom Body Fitness every day. People are in there, knowing they need to exercise in order to lose weight or improve their fitness, but along the way they realize that exercise itself contributes to their daily happiness. The reason is because exercise has many advantages:

• Combats health conditions and diseases

• Improves mood and even sex drive

• Boosts energy levels

• Reduces the risk of dying prematurely

• Reduces the risk of diabetes and helps control diabetes for those who have been diagnosed.

• Reduces the risk of high blood pressure and helps reduce high blood pressure in people who already have hypertension

• Promotes psychological well-being

• Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety

• Helps control weight and lose body fat

• Rejuvenates the body

• Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints

• Improves the physical ability to drive a car in older adults

Not to mention that a person who is fit is able to do many physical tasks that the average person can’t.

I used to be a person with no discipline; I let life take its own random course. I thought I was happy, but I was only rationalizing my unfocused, if somewhat comfortable, life. But now, as I work out and try new things in life and in my business, I end up getting out of my comfort zone, and I see that this allows me to achieve many of the long-term goals that contribute to my long-term happiness. Not only that, it has helped me achieve daily happiness. This may sound a bit obscure, since it’s hard to explain to someone who has not achieved true daily happiness. It is like explaining the red color to a blind person. If you experience self-discipline, and find all the good things of life, you may know what I’m talking about.

Don’t let your life vanish, waiting for happiness when you have it in front of you. I encourage you to find what you require to start being happy every day of your life. I suspect that starting to exercise and changing your eating habits for better ones could be a first step towards this happiness goal.

Sandro Torres is owner of Custom Body Fitness in Basalt and Glenwood Springs and author of the books “Lose Weight Permanently” and “Finding Genuine Happiness.” His column appears on the second Monday of the month.

Health care professionals to host panel discussion on transformations in primary health care

A panel to address several transformations in primary health care practices is slated for today, a group of health care organizations announced Tuesday.

“Midvalley Family Practice, the Western and Rural Colorado Health Care Coalition and the Valley Health Alliance invite the public to attend a virtual panel discussion on challenges and changes in primary care and integrated health care in 2021,” a news release states. “The panel will be moderated by Valley Health Alliance Executive Director Chris McDowell and feature team members from Midvalley Family Practice, which for decades has offered primary care in Basalt.

The panel is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 11. This is a Zoom event. To get the link to join in, contact Emily Tracy at 970-389-4574 or etbreck@gmail.com.

“Dr. Glenn Kotz and his team at Midvalley Family Practice pioneered integrating behavioral health into a local primary care clinical setting, and they have recently integrated dental health, direct economic assistance and a food pantry in order to serve changing demographics and community needs,” the release states.

What: Panel discussion: “Integration and the Ongoing Transformation of Healthcare”

When: 9 a.m. Friday, June 11

Where: Zoom Video Conference. To join, contact Emily Tracy at 970-389-4574 or etbreck@gmail.com.

Who: Moderator Chris McDowell, executive director Valley Health Alliance. Panel members Dr. Glenn Kotz, MD; Ashley Burke, PA; Kristine Gatdula, certified dental hygienist; and Jarid Rollins, licensed clinical social worker

Garfield County Public Health Department announces six cases of the COVID-19 India variant

Weeks after Mesa County began seeing cases with the COVID-19 India variant, gene sequencing and testing confirmed the same variant in six people from Garfield County, a press release states. Earlier this week, the same variant took the life of an individual in Mesa County who was between 10-19 years old.

Public Health Information Officer Carrie Godes said the variant’s arrival is unsettling, especially since so many things are turning around regarding the pandemic.

“With summer holiday gatherings and vacations all around the corner, we have to jump on this now,” Godes said.

Out of Garfield County’s six cases, only one individual was vaccinated. The release states that the vaccination grants people greater immunity to COVID-19, and in the event that they do catch it, the symptoms are lessened.

Sara Brainard, Public Health nurse manager, said since the India variant isn’t the dominant strain circulating right now, community members must do what they can to keep it that way.

“If it is allowed to circulate and mutate in our unvaccinated population it will become a variant of concern here. Our best defense is the vaccine. We also must continue to have anyone who is sick follow isolation protocols to keep others safe,” Brainard said.

The release states vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine after exposure unless they begin to show symptoms. For those who aren’t vaccinated, they should quarantine for 10 days since the exposure and be without a fever for 24 hours.

Unvaccinated individuals have a higher chance of becoming infected and experiencing complications from the illness, the release states. Hospital related stays for COVID-19 also can be upwards of $30,000.

Brainard encouraged community members to get the vaccine for their own sake, and so that their summers won’t be interrupted by quarantine, something that would be required for entire households even if only one person was exposed.

“Getting that vaccine means you don’t have to stop life because you were exposed. What we have learned in the last year is that staying home when sick for the full recommended period, hand washing, masks, and distance still work,” Brainard said.


Valley View opens valves, provides more procedural practices for Western Slope patients

Headshot of Dr. Stephen Jones, a new addition to Valley View Hospital's Heart & Vascular Center.

Larry Sweeney was at a standard dentist check-up when they found his blood pressure levels and heart rate to be extremely high. Sweeney didn’t know it then, but he was about to be one of Dr. Stephen Jones’ first patients for a procedure that had never before been done on the Western Slope of Colorado.

“After about 15 minutes … I felt like, well I’ve known this guy forever. Just started feeling very comfortable with it. … Eventually he told me we’re going to do a triple bypass, you’ve got a 90% blockage,” Sweeney said.

Jones moved to Glenwood Springs and took on a role at Valley View Hospital in January, after leaving a hospital in Boise, Idaho, where he worked as the chief of cardiothoracic surgery for 10 years.

“The team of people taking care of these patients is very experienced. Both individually and as a team together. We did a case yesterday with two techs, a perfusionist and a nurse in the operating room, and I had worked with all of these guys before,” Jones said.

The Heart & Vascular Center at Valley View can offer care to patients other area hospitals don’t have the capacity for. Jones described heart surgery as a team effort and said the addition of this center to Valley View will make it easier for patients who need to access this kind of care.

“It’s certainly more convenient for elderly patients and their family members. The older people get, the less they like to drive in big traffic,” Jones said. “If your husband, wife or significant other is having heart surgery in Denver, and you can’t get over there to see them, or if you have to go you know you’re stuck over there … it’s not convenient.”

Sweeney is retired and lives with his wife up in the hills between Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap. He is a cancer survivor and an Air Force veteran, and prior to his experience in February had never experienced heart issues before.

“We finally got a date, Feb. 23. Feb. 23 made me very comfortable, because it was the same date 15 years earlier that all my cancer was gone, and I had my cancer surgery. I thought, ‘Well, that’s good, we’ll fix two problems, and I’ll only have to remember one day,” Sweeney said.

After Sweeney’s procedure, he said he had almost no pain and was up and walking under supervision of a nurse the very next day. Jones said he and his team are very experienced despite being a new addition to Valley View, and offer care that their local competitors do not.

“His professionalism, personality and confidence … we were talking about releasing me in six days but I think we ended up at eight. … It’s just tremendous care,” Sweeney said.

Jones also mentioned how he and Dr. Frank Laws have an approach to atrial fibrillation surgery that individuals aren’t as likely to encounter in other health care settings.

“We treat AFib in a combined or hybrid approach that offers people a longstanding, chronicative solution that they have not been able to get elsewhere,” Jones said.

The new services being offered in the Heart & Vascular Center at Valley View do not require referrals, and the team is available to provide emergency care to patients on a 24/7 basis. To learn more or book an appointment, call 970-384-7290 or visit https://vvheartcare.org.

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or jpeterson@postindependent.com.

Doctor’s Tip: Sleep apnea can cause serious health problems


Apnea means absence of breathing, and sleep apnea refers to when this happens during sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is common in people who are overweight; have a thick neck; have a receding chin; or have other conditions that can obstruct airflow when tissues are relaxed during sleep, such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids in children. Typically, people with OSA snore. Often their bedpartner notices that they periodically stop breathing for several seconds when sleeping. Often, an OSA sufferer awakens suddenly during the night with a snort.

Central sleep apnea is common in people who live at or above 3,000 feet, and is more apt to occur as people age. At night, the brain senses that there isn’t enough oxygen in the air, which triggers several deep breaths in a row. This results in a low carbon dioxide level in the blood, and when the brain senses that, breathing stops for several seconds to allow CO2 to return to a normal level. Some people have mixed apnea — obstructive and central.

Apnea sufferers are in and out of a deep sleep all night long, unbeknownst to them, which wreaks havoc on the cardiovascular and several other systems of the body. The classic symptoms of severe sleep apnea are not feeling rested after waking up in the morning and feeling sleepy during the day, which can lead to accidents, depression and poor job performance. Other problems associated with sleep apnea are: atherosclerosis; heart attacks; strokes; high blood pressure; cognitive problems including dementia; cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation; sudden death from heart irregularities; erectile dysfunction; diabetes (diabetes-causing stress hormones are secreted at night in people with sleep apnea); night sweats; and “thick blood,” meaning a high red blood count (hematocrit and hemoglobin) due to the body trying to compensate for the low blood oxygen at night by making more red blood cells. Anyone with any of these problems should be screened for sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can often be diagnosed from what the bed partner says. It can be confirmed with a simple and inexpensive overnight oximetry — wearing a finger monitor that measures the pulse rate and oxygen level all night. If this test is normal, sleep apnea is unlikely. If it’s abnormal, the next step is a more extensive test called an overnight sleep study. A home sleep study is less expensive, but a hospital sleep lab study is better for diagnosing central apnea. Furthermore, in a sleep lab a “split sleep study” can be done, which involves the following: During the first half of the night, the diagnosis and type (obstructive or central or mixed) of sleep apnea are established. If sleep apnea is confirmed, continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, is applied and adjusted during the second half of the night.

If sleep apnea is diagnosed, a thyroid blood test test should be done, because low thyroid can cause or contribute to apnea. People with sleep apnea should avoid alcohol, sleep aids and sleeping on their back — all of which make apnea worse. Losing weight helps in people who are overweight. In some cases, special dental appliances and throat surgery can help. In pure central apnea, moving to sea level is usually curative. However, most people need CPAP — the gold standard treatment. This involves the patient wearing a mask (which usually covers just the nose) at night that is hooked up through tubing to a quiet machine that puts out air at a continuous pressure, thereby preventing the apneic spells.

Most people tolerate CPAP well, and start feeling better within a few days of starting it. People who tolerate it find they fall asleep faster, sleep more soundly, and feel better when they wake up and for the rest of the day. Problems such as hypertension and arrhythmias often improve or resolve.

It’s estimated that about 18 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea, with over 90 percent of them undiagnosed. Many more people living at altitude suffer from central sleep apnea, and, again, most are undiagnosed. If after reading the information above, you or your partner think you could have sleep apnea, it would improve your quality of life, and perhaps save your life, if you sought diagnosis and treatment. Your primary care provider should be able to help you with this. For difficult cases, we’re fortunate to have pulmonologist Dr. Khilnani and The Lung Center at Valley View Hospital.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally through lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.

Torres column: Persistence is the key to reaching your goals

I’m amazed by people who get astonishing results when I assess them for weight loss. I usually ask myself what the difference is between the people who get results and the ones who struggle. Family responsibilities, work, knowledge, support, money? Even though all of these are contributing factors, one thing sets apart those who get results from those who struggle.

I have clients who work, have more than one child and the support system is not ideal. They are some of my best members and lose pounds every week.

Persistence, I think, is the answer. When people really want something, they make it happen. I have no doubt about this. Many of my clients have shown me that they are capable of doing more than I think they can.

Many people think that those who lose weight have it easy. They may not understand that they needed to make time and not wait until they have time. Nobody has time. They cut television time and ask their husbands to help them with their children. They wake up earlier to cook. They plan their day and find ways to attend their sessions. They continue learning and focus on the healthy things they can do. They improve their eating every week and their strength in training sessions. Weight loss becomes part of their life in a healthy way — not an obsession but a lifestyle.

Are these people free from problems — no bills to pay, family issues, car issues, work issues, health issue or other worries? They are just as human as we are. They have problems just like anybody else. This is what really amazed me — the persistence they have, and there is nothing that can stop them. They make no excuses.

If people had no worries, it would be easy to lose weight and to have a nice body because there would be no interventions in their program. Everyone could do it. The reality is that no one has no problems, including those who get what they want.

Believe me, I’m aware that life is difficult. I live it myself, and when things get in the way, I find ways to continue persevering toward my goals. Just like my clients, I give away many things that many won’t give way.

Life is always changing; sometimes things are just perfect (up), sometimes they’re crazy (down), that is life. During the down times is when growth happens, when amazing things take place, when only the strong keep moving ahead.

When things get out of control and are not happening the way we planned, that it is the time we want to be strong. Anybody can be positive and smile when life is easy, when everything is normal, when there are no problems, when our family is just fine. However, it’s the hard moments when we need to be strong, smile, stay positive, find the good in everything and continue persevering toward our goals. This is what sets some of my clients apart from the rest who don’t get results when life gets crazy.

Sandro Torres is owner of Custom Body Fitness in Basalt and Glenwood Springs and author of the books “Lose Weight Permanently” and “Finding Genuine Happiness.” His column appears on the second Monday of the month.


Garfield County Public Health seeks to build COVID-19 vaccine trust with video-story project

Sylvia Johnson, contact tracer and La Vacuna Es Para Nosotros project lead for Garfield County Public Health.

A new project of Garfield County Public Health — complete with video, pictures and personal narratives — is aimed at building trust in the push to convince those who may still be hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, especially within the Latino community.

La Vacuna es Para Nosotros, or “the Vaccine is For Us,” is a photo and video essay project sponsored by Public Health and created by Sylvia Johnson, who has been working as a bilingual contact tracer for the county since last fall.

Johnson is a professional videographer and photographer who was born in Latin America and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley.

She is also a National Geographic “Explorer,” a program that identifies people around the world who are gifted at raising awareness and helping solve problems through their work.

Johnson applied for and got approval for a small National Geographic Rapid Response grant to fund the project.

She said the project came about from listening to people’s stories about what it’s been like to live with the pandemic over the past year, and especially from those who had COVID-19.

“It was a chance to humanize the experience, and provide an opportunity for our essential workers and service workers to tell the story of what their experience has been like,” she said.

It’s also a way to share their personal decisions to get vaccinated, and why that was important to moving forward with their lives, Johnson said.

The project consists of 14 photo stories and a short video created by Johnson.

“By sharing stories that build trust and calm fears about the COVID-19 vaccine, we can end the pandemic,” Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes said.

The photo stories include whole families, restaurant workers, business owners, farm workers, law enforcement officers, housekeepers, medical interpreters and students.

The photo stories are available in Spanish and English, and the project includes a dedicated web page on the Garfield County website with a link to the 2-minute, 15-second video and a 29-page digital story book.

The project also is to include a marketing campaign with audio clips for radio, as well as print and social media advertising.

As of Monday, 45% of Garfield County’s population that is eligible to receive the vaccine has been fully vaccinated, and 55% has received at least one dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to Garfield Public Health statistics.

Although not everyone who gets the vaccine answers demographic information, according to the Colorado Immunization Information System, 12% of Garfield County residents who received at least one dose have been Hispanic and 27% are unknown.

Of the vaccines administered by Garfield County Public Health, which accounts for only a small percentage of those administered countywide, 36% indicated that they are Hispanic, while 48% are White/Non-Hispanic and 12% are unknown, Godes said.

Meanwhile, the county continues to step up its vaccination efforts alongside providers such as Valley View and Grand River hospitals.

Site-based clinics are being conducted multiple times a week from Carbondale to Parachute, and the state’s pop-up mobile clinic has been making visits to specific underserved neighborhoods across the county, Godes said.

“Our goal is to make things more accessible, and more equitable,” she said.

County efforts have also targeted the homeless, the county jail population, those in hospice care, high schools and, soon now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for the 12- to 15-year-old age group, middle school students as well.

Clinics have also been conducted at some places of employment, and more could be offered by request, Godes said.

“We are targeting neighborhoods and geographic areas with identified needs at the moment,” she said. “The areas we have been targeting are easy to access locations in each municipality, such as schools, low-income neighborhoods or areas with homes that lack easy access to public transportation.”

The vaccination effort is having an impact on the number of new COVID-19 cases in Garfield County. As of Monday, the daily incident rate was less than six, with a one-week case count of 30 and a test positivity rate of 2.2%.

“The vaccinations are working, and the proof is in the numbers,” County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during the commissioners’ regular Monday meeting.

Added Commissioner Mike Samson, “I would just encourage everyone to get vaccinated … so we can get back to normal.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Doctor’s Tip: Atrial fibrillation can be serious

Atrial fibrillation is caused by an abnormality in the heart’s electrical conduction system. It’s common — around 9 percent of people 65 and over have it. To understand A fib, as it’s often called, it’s important to understand heart basics.

The heart is a specialized muscle that is made up of two smaller, upper chambers — the right and left atrium — and two larger, lower chambers — the right and left ventricle. Blood that has released oxygen to muscles, tissues and organs throughout the body returns through veins to the right atrium, which pumps it into the right ventricle, which then pumps it through the lungs, where it gets rid of carbon dioxide waste and takes on oxygen. Blood then enters the left atrium, which pumps it into the left ventricle, which then pumps it out through miles and miles of arteries. Each time the heart pumps, valves prevent backflow.

In an average person the heart beats approximately 4,800 times an hour, 115,200 times a day, over 42 million times a year, and over 3 billion times over an 80-year lifespan. All these heartbeats are driven by the heart’s built-in electrical system with its own pacemaker. The sinoatrial (S-A) note, located in the right atrium, serves as the heart’s pacemaker, which every second or so initiates an impulse that spreads across the two atria, causing them to contract, then passes to the ventricles, causing them to contract.

A fib is caused by an abnormality (“short circuit”) in the electrical conduction system, resulting in weak, irregular, chaotic contractions of the atria (like a fish out of water), instead of regular, rhythmic, strong beats. The lack of normal blood flow through the atria can lead to sludging and clots —which can go to the brain and cause strokes. The ventricles in A fib beat irregularly and often rapidly, and if this goes on for a long time, the heart muscle is damaged and heart failure results.

Some of the common risk factors for developing A fib are: overactive thyroid; atherosclerosis of the coronary (heart) arteries; sleep apnea; valvular heart disease (such as that caused by rheumatic fever); high blood pressure; pericarditis; chest trauma; thoracic or cardiac surgery; pulmonary disease such as pneumonia or pulmonary embolism; certain medications; acute alcohol excess; and alcohol withdrawal. There is also evidence that overexercise, such as training for and competing in ultramarathons, repeated marathons or full triathlons, can cause scarring of the electrical conduction system, causing A fib and other cardiac arrhythmias (read “The Haywire Heart”).

Symptoms from A fib include racing heart, palpitations, weakness, light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath and chest pain. Some people have no symptoms. A fib can last from minutes to weeks. It can be just a one-time event, be intermittent or be permanent. If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, check your pulse by gently placing the tips of your index and middle fingers on your radial artery, on the thumb side of the under-surface of your wrist, about 2 inches back from your palm. You can also check your pulse by placing the same two fingers on the carotid artery on either side of your trachea (windpipe). Count the number of beats for 15 seconds and multiply by four to get the number of beats per minute. Normal rate is 60 to around 75 (well-conditioned athletes often have pulse rates less than 60).

If your pulse is over 100, or if it’s irregular, you should see your primary care doctor as soon as possible to see if you have A fib. If an EKG confirms A fib, your doctor may want to put you on an anticoagulant for stroke prevention. If your ventricular rate is extremely rapid, you might need medication to slow it down to prevent heart failure.

A fib sometimes goes away on its own. If it doesn’t, one option is cardioversion, where a cardiologist applies a brief electrical current to your heart to get it back in a regular rhythm. In some cases, medications to maintain a normal rhythm are indicated. Another option that became available several years ago is ablation, where an electrophysiologist (cardiologist who specializes in the electrical conduction system of the heart) cauterizes the abnormal circuitry in the heart that is causing the A fib. Fortunately, well-trained cardiologists and an electrophysiologist are available at Valley View Hospital.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally through lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.