Are You at Risk for Afib?
Nearly three million Americans live with atrial fibrillation, also known as afib. Unfortunately, only one-third of people with afib realize that it is a serious condition that increases their risk for heart-related hospitalization, stroke, and even death.
What is Afib?
Atrial fibrillation is a common type of irregular heartbeat. Under normal circumstances, the heart beats in a regular rhythm starting with the atria and followed by the ventricles. Structural abnormalities or damage to the heart can interfere with the electrical impulses that regulate the heart’s rhythm. This can cause the atria to quiver instead of providing an effective beat. This slows the movement of the blood through the heart, which can lead to the development of clots. A clot can break off and travel through the bloodstream where it can block the blood supply to the brain resulting in a stroke.
Afib Signs and Symptoms:
Atrial fibrillation may produce few, if any, symptoms. The condition is often discovered during routine medical exams. Mild symptoms may include an irregular pulse or palpitations. Other afib symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath with minimal exertion.
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Mental confusion.
Afib Risk Factors:
Several different factors can increase your risk of developing atrial fibrillation, including:
- A family history of atrial fibrillation.
- Sleep apnea.
- Heavy use of stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine.
- Excessive alcohol use.
- High blood pressure.
- Coronary artery disease
- Thyroid and other metabolic conditions.
Afib and Older Adults:
Your risk of developing atrial fibrillation increases as you get older. This is especially true among white males over the age of 60. The increased risk is due in part to the fact that older adults are more likely to have multiple health conditions, such as heart disease and high blood pressure, that put them at higher risk of developing afib. They are also more liable to experience complications from untreated afib since they may disregard symptoms as a normal part of aging.
Afib and Stroke Risk:
Less than half of people with afib realize they are in serious danger of a stroke. Untreated atrial fibrillation causes a four to five time greater risk of stroke. By recognizing afib symptoms and discussing them with your doctor, you can start a treatment regimen that save your life.
Treatments for Afib:
The most common treatment for afib involves anticoagulants that thin the blood to prevent clots. Depending on the medication, your doctor may order routine lab monitoring and dietary restrictions. Depending on the cause of your afib, medication or electric shock may be used to regulate the heart’s rate and rhythm. In some cases, ablation is used to destroy small sections of the heart that are causing the irregular heartbeat.
You can reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation by practicing a heart-healthy lifestyle, including:
- Getting regular exercise.
- Stopping smoking.
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Managing blood pressure.
- Reducing stress.
You should also consult your doctor immediately if you experience any symptoms of atrial fibrillation.