By Dr. Mallika Marshall, WBZ-TVBy Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – Heart problems are big problems for Americans, but if you think they only affect the elderly, think again. Younger and otherwise healthy people are having heart problems, too, even if they’re in great shape.

Mark Marshall is only 51. The competitive wrestler was out for a training run when suddenly he felt a flutter in his chest and his vision blurred. “In my mind I’m thinking, you must be dehydrated. I had no idea I was in afib,” he remembers.

But he was, even though Mark had none of the risk factors for atrial fibrillation like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and old age. “I work out every day. I eat very good. I don’t do anything that’s crazy. I run, I lift, I wrestle. I was really, really shocked by this,” he says.

“Atrial fibrillation is a really powerful predictor and cause of stroke, especially in older people, but sometimes even in younger people,” says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s hospital. Afib is an irregular, rapid heart rhythm where the chambers of the heart beat in an uncoordinated way.

Mark’s heart was shocked twice to get it back to a normal rhythm, but the longest that worked was a week and a half. Since he didn’t want to take medication long term, Mark opted for ablation where doctors thread a catheter through the blood vessels, into the heart and zap the tissue where the abnormal rhythm signals are coming from.

Younger people may ignore the signs of afib, but that’s a mistake. “If people notice irregular heartbeats, that is, the sense that out of the blue their heart is beating quickly and irregularly, with no good reason why, it’s important to get it checked out,” says Dr. Bhatt.

It’s been a year and a half since his procedure and Mark has returned to training. He also won the U.S. Open Freestyle Wrestling competition, and a gold medal in the world championship. “It’s amazing how great I feel. I tell my wife I feel like I’m 18,” he says.



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