Southcoast Health targets region’s high rate of AFib with early identification and prevention program

The Atrial Fibrillation Wellness and Stroke Prevention Program offers education for risk factors and preventative lifestyle changes, as well as new treatment options and social supports

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Southcoast Health announced today the launch of its new comprehensive Atrial Fibrillation Wellness and Stroke Prevention Program, designed to help identify high-risk patients and streamline their access to care, while offering them the tools to help prevent risk factors through education, exercise and lifestyle changes, and social supports.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) – an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating – is commonly seen in men and women over 50. Risk factors include high blood pressure, sleep apnea, obesity, poor diet and exercise habits, smoking and heart disease. The population of the South Coast region has a particularly high rate of AFib, said Nitesh A. Sood, MD, Electrophysiologist at Southcoast Health.

“Even though it is not acutely life threatening, Atrial Fibrillation is associated with a significant decrease in quality of life with respect to palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue,” Dr. Sood said. Additionally, many patients with AFib do not suffer from obvious symptoms like palpitations. “These people sometimes get missed, and do not receive proper treatment,” he added.

The Atrial Fibrillation Wellness and Stroke Prevention Program aims to educate patients and the local physician community – including emergency department doctors and primary care physicians – to quickly diagnose and treat risk factors in patients and streamline a patient’s referral to a cardiologist.

Because AFib can increase a patient’s risk of stroke, the Atrial Fibrillation Wellness and Stroke Prevention Program will assess patients’ stroke risk and offer appropriate preventative medication or therapy, such as blood thinners. Additionally, Southcoast is among the first hospitals in New England to offer a new treatment option, the WATCHMAN Device. WATCHMAN is implanted in the heart as an alternative to blood thinners, for patients who may be experiencing problems with bleeding or who don’t want to be on anticoagulants long-term.

Southcoast Health also performs advanced procedures to treat AFib – such as Cryo-ablation and Convergent Hybrid Ablation – but early identification is important. “The longer Atrial Fibrillation goes untreated, the worse it gets,” Dr. Sood said. “If you are a candidate for the procedure, it should be done as soon as possible.”

“While we have these procedures, what really needs to happen is lifestyle modification to help with outcomes or to prevent patients from coming to us later needing these procedures,” he added.

The patients in the Atrial Fibrillation Wellness and Stroke Prevention Program receive a three-month supervised fitness and exercise program at a minimal cost. The wellness initiative also includes:

  • Regular support groups and a social media platform to share experiences
  • Yoga and meditation classes
  • Nutrition and cooking classes
  • Access to a physician on call, 24/7

Additionally, Southcoast Health will collaborate with a sleep apnea program. “We will be able to have a sleep study done within 48 hours of a patient being seen in our program, to quickly diagnose and treat people with sleep apnea,” Dr. Sood said.

For more information about the Atrial Fibrillation Wellness and Stroke Prevention Program, visit