What does AFib mean for your life?
Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a serious heart condition that can be fatal if left untreated. Unfortunately many patients are not familiar with the disease and how serious it can be according to the Heart Rhythm Society. It's important to understand the symptoms of this disease and see a doctor if you begin to experience them. The good news is that with treatment for atrial fibrillation patients can still lead long active and healthy lives.
What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. People with this condition have a very fast and irregular or quivering heartbeat that causes blood to pool in the upper part of the heart. Atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke blood clots and heart failure if left untreated according to the American Heart Association.
What are the symptoms?
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute notes that you may or may not experience symptoms with AFib which is why getting regular checkups is important. Some people describe their symptoms as fish flopping drums pounding or thunder rumbling in their chest according to the Heart Rhythm Society. Others notice that their heart "flip flops" flutters or skips a beat. You may experience shortness of breath especially during exercise a decreased ability to exercise chest pain excessive or irregular heartbeats nausea light-headedness dizziness fainting and weakness. Chat with your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms. You may be prescribed to have a stress test which involves running on a treadmill while a doctor monitors your heart rate or to wear a Holter monitor a device you wear at home that tracks and reports your heart rhythm to your doctor for further study.
Can it be prevented?
You can develop Afib even if you're otherwise healthy but certain risk factors do boost your chance of getting this condition. The Heart Rhythm Society notes that the most common risk factors for atrial fibrillation include being over 60 using stimulants or alcohol excessively developing serious infections or illnesses — and having high blood pressure congestive heart failure coronary heart disease diabetes chronic lung disease thyroid disease or sleep apnea. A family history of atrial fibrillation is also a risk factor.
While you may not have control over whether you develop atrial fibrillation there are ways to lower your risk. Prevention strategies provided by the American Heart Association include getting regular physical activity following a heart-healthy diet achieving normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels maintaining a healthy body weight not smoking and steering clear of excessive alcohol and caffeine use. Getting regular checkups to monitor risk factors helps to catch AFib early before it can cause problems that impact your life.
Some of the conduction disturbances (abnormal heart rhythms) that the Reid Heart & Vascular Center's Rhythm Management Center's board-certified electrophysiologists treat include atrial fibrillation and other conditions such as atrial flutter supraventricular tachycardia ventricular tachycardia and bradycardia due to heart block. You can lead a long healthy life with atrial fibrillation by getting the necessary medical care. Treatments for AFib according to Medline Plus may include oral medications that slow your heartbeat or thin your blood and intravenous (IV) medications. In some cases your doctor may recommend cardiac ablation procedures a pacemaker or an electrical cardioversion — a procedure that electrically shocks your heart with paddles or patches on your chest. With all of these procedures you'll be sedated so you won't be uncomfortable. If you suffer from atrial fibrillation you'll determine with your doctor what treatment strategy is a good fit for you.
While atrial fibrillation can't always be prevented it can be effectively treated and managed especially when caught early so don't hesitate to speak up if you experience any feelings of drumming pounding flopping or fluttering in your chest.
For more information visit: Reid Health Rhythm Management Center.