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John Hatzigiannis had always been in good health. So it came as a surprise when the 54-year-old from Park Ridge began experiencing a fluttering sensation in his chest. Hatzigiannis did not waste any time seeing his longtime primary care physician who recommended a heart monitor for two weeks and a stress test.
The results found nothing out of the ordinary, so Hatzigiannis kept to his normal routine.
“But then, the fluttering happened again,” he recalled. “I went right to the Glenbrook Hospital Emergency Department.”
Pinpoint Diagnosis “We determined that John suffered from an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation or AFib,” said Mark Metzl, MD, Director of Complex Cardiac Ablation at NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute. AFib can be a serious condition that increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and even death. Men typically develop it after age 50, up to 10 years earlier than women.
“AFib can be caused by anything that increases pressure in the heart,” explained Dr. Metzl, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “A heart rhythm abnormality can be a symptom of several underlying factors, but in John’s case, we identified two modifiable risk factors: stress and sleep apnea—the sleep disorder that interferes with getting enough oxygen during sleep.”
Hatzigiannis began using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help him breathe normally during sleep. Dr. Metzl also recommended he make an appointment with NorthShore’s Integrative Medicine Program to develop natural and healthy habits to tackle his stress.
Prescription without Medication
“A multidisciplinary approach, such as this new collaboration between our Cardiovascular Institute and the Integrative Medicine team, allows for a comprehensive treatment plan that leads to better outcomes,” added Dr. Metzl.
“Patients with a variety of health concerns, including those with AFib, benefit from an Integrative Medicine approach that incorporates stress-management techniques,” said Charlotte Walker, LCSW, LMT, a therapist with Integrative Medicine.
Walker worked one-on-one with Hatzigiannis to practice mindfulness exercises and therapeutic breathing techniques. “Many patients may feel like they don’t have stress in their lives, but they actually internalize stressful situations in ways that can create health issues.”
Hatzigiannis readily admits that working with the Integrative Medicine team has been very helpful. “I haven’t had another episode of AFib since using the CPAP and learning how to better manage my stress,” he said. “Most of all, my health has improved and I feel better thanks to NorthShore’s comprehensive approach to treating patients like me.”