What To Do When AFib Sends Your Heart Offbeat


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If you notice your heart flutter or quiver periodically or have episodes of rapid beating, you could have arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat. The most common form of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, or AFib.

When you have AFib, the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) beat irregularly. This reduces your heart’s ability to move blood and can lead to blood pooling and clotting inside your heart.

This increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Other AFib symptoms may include:

  • General fatigue and fatigue when exercising
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Faintness or confusion
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure (If you experience chest pain or pressure, call 911 immediately. You could be having a heart attack.)

When AFib Shows Up Unannounced

Some people with AFib, however, have no symptoms, says cardiovascular specialist and electrophysiologist Mark Krebs, MD. They discover they have AFib when they go to the doctor for a checkup or treatment for another medical condition. 

That’s why it’s important to schedule regular checkups, especially if you have risk factors for AFib – for instance, high blood pressure, preexisting heart disease, age, physical inactivity, stress, smoking, and being overweight.

“The absence of symptoms does not mean that individual does not have an increased risk for potential problems from atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Krebs says. “A faster heart rate sustained for days or weeks on end can weaken the heart muscle.”

And because AFib carries a risk for developing blood clots, which could lead to heart attack or stroke, it’s in your best interest to be diagnosed so your doctor can treat you and lower your risk of potentially life-threatening complications.

Dr. Mark Krebs explains symptoms of AFib and the fact you can have AFib without knowing it.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

How AFib Is Diagnosed

Once your doctor examines you and detects the signs of AFib, he can order tests to confirm the diagnosis. From there, your doctor can prescribe a plan of treatment to help you manage and live with AFib or other type of arrhythmia.

Diagnostic tests for AFib include:

Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) – in which electrodes are placed on the skin to record your heart’s electrical activity.

Holter monitoring – in which you wear a portable ECG device, a Holter monitor, which records your heart activity for 24 to 48 hours.

Cardiac event recording – in which you wear an event recorder, similar to a Holter monitor, but worn for a longer period. This device records heart activity when activated by an arrhythmia episode and is typically used if you have intermittent abnormal heart rhythms.

How To Live With AFib And Reduce Your Risk

You can lead a normal, active life with AFib, says Kevin Kravitz, MD, cardiovascular specialist and electrophysiologist.

“You shouldn’t be afraid of atrial fibrillation,” he assures. “It can cause symptoms that affect your quality of life, and we can treat that with medications.”

While AFib symptoms themselves are not life-threatening, the condition can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke. If untreated, AFib doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and can increase stroke risk five-fold.

Dr. Kevin Kravitz talks about living with AFib.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

You can lower the risks of AFib with treatment and lifestyle changes, such as:

A healthy diet and exercise can help prevent or address obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which are common AFib risk factors.

Dr. Kevin Kravitz talks about how to reduce the risk of an AFib episode.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Other ways to manage your AFib include:

  • Schedule routine checkups with your health care provider
  • Inform your doctor about all medications you are taking
  • Call your doctor if you experience side effects or medication interactions
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medications or nutritional supplements

And you may need regular blood tests if you take blood thinners to prevent stroke.

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