You may have seen TV commercials with Barry Manilow and less famous senior citizens talking about AFib. That’s shorthand for atrial fibrillation, the most common cause of irregular heartbeats.
When you have AFib, the electrical signals to the upper chambers of your heart become disorganized. A healthy heart beats steadily for about 60 times a minute at rest. With AFib, that can increase to 300 beats a minute or more.
For most patients, the major concern is increased risk of stroke and heart complications. AFib affects more than 2.7 million Americans, and often goes undiagnosed in cases where there are no visible symptoms.
Learn how to protect your heart and overall health. Study this quick guide to AFib.
Living with Atrial Fibrillation
While the likelihood of having AFib increases with age, you can develop the condition at any age. It can be short term or permanent, so the duration and root causes will help determine what kind of treatment you need.
Try these strategies:
- Spot the symptoms. A rapid and irregular heartbeat is the most obvious sign. You may also experience general fatigue and shortness of breath, especially during physical activity.
- Get diagnosed. If AFib is suspected, your doctor will perform an electrocardiogram to study your heart function. You may also need some additional tests, like a chest x-ray or walking on a treadmill to see how that affects your heart rate.
- Manage underlying conditions. Other health issues may affect AFib. That could include hyperthyroidism and heart conditions. Coordinated treatment enables more positive outcomes.
- Take medication. Many patients need to take blood thinners to manage the risk of stroke. Follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully. You may need regular blood checks and certain dietary changes.
- Consider surgery. Newer procedures like catheter ablation show great promise. It can restore normal heart rhythm by using radiofrequency energy to change the electrical signals in your body.
- Keep a journal. Tracking your AFib triggers can help you to change your habits. For example, you might benefit from cutting down on caffeine. Discuss your personal concerns with your doctor.
Other Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Stroke
When you have AFib, you’re at five times the usual risk for having a stroke. Knowing the early signs, like drooping facial muscles and slurred speech, can help you to get immediate care and enhance your recovery.
You can also take some additional preventive steps, such as these:
- Quit smoking. An estimated 20% of strokes are caused by smoking, because it thickens your blood and may lead to clotting. It often takes several attempts before you succeed, so keep trying.
- Lose weight. Being overweight can double your chances of having a stroke. Shed excess pounds with a balanced diet low in saturated fats.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps too. Use aerobics and strength training to burn calories and strengthen your heart. Your doctor can guide you in designing a program that’s safe for you.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. Heavy drinking can trigger AFib. Limit yourself to no more than one drink a day. Take days off from alcohol each week.
- Lower your blood pressure. These lifestyle changes and a little less salt in your diet can help lower your blood pressure dramatically. You may also want to use home monitoring to measure your progress and catch any complications.
- Drink water. Staying hydrated is a simple way to help thin your blood. Carry a water bottle around with you and sip regularly.
Talk with your doctor if you or a loved one are living with AFib. More effective treatment options have become available in recent years. Lifestyle changes and appropriate medical care can help you to lead a long and active life.