Popular fiction, TV shows and movies often describe the feeling of falling in love as a fast beating, fluttering heart. In real life, that rapid heartbeat isn’t always such a happy and exciting experience. Why? It could be atrial fibrillation.
This heart condition, frequently referred to as AFib, happens when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat too fast and, as a result, the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles) can’t pump blood though the body as efficiently or effectively as they should. It’s often described as a quivering or fluttering heart and it affects approximately 2.7 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association.
Could you become one of them? Here are answers to five of the most commonly asked questions about atrial fibrillation so you can do your part to avoid a quivering heart.
1. How can I get AFib?
Atrial fibrillation can occur in almost anyone, but those with specific risk factors are more likely to experience AFib at some point in time. Those risk factors include, advanced age, high blood pressure, excessive alcohol consumption, sleep apnea, genetics, other abnormal heart conditions, or other chronic medical problems.
2. Can I have AFib and not know it?
Some people experience atrial fibrillation symptoms while others don’t. In fact, some only find out they have AFib through a health screening or physical exam by a doctor. For those who do experience signs of AFib, symptoms can include things like a rapid, fluttering heartbeat, anxiety, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, fatigue while exercising and more. Chest pain can also be a symptom of AFib, but if you experience chest pain you should call 9-1-1 right away, as this could be a heart attack.
3. Can I die from AFib?
Many people who have AFib live normal, active lives and face no health problems from the condition. However, instances of AFib as the primary or underlying cause of death have increased over the past two decades. Death usually only occurs from complications that arise from AFib, not the condition itself. Atrial fibrillation can cause the heart muscle to weaken gradually, which can lead to further heart problems in the future, like stroke and heart attack. A person with atrial fibrillation is five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without atrial fibrillation. Controlling and avoiding triggers is one way to prevent one of these fatal complications from happening.
4. Is AFib curable or permanent?
According to the American Heart Association, AFib will often return even after it’s been “cured.” The condition needs to be managed with regular check-ups and treatment plans. Sometimes AFib symptoms will disappear on their own, but many times they do not.
5. How is AFib treated?
The most common form of treatment for atrial fibrillation is medication, which helps control heart rate and rhythm and prevents or treats current blood clots. Examples of AFib medications include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, digoxin, blood thinners and more. Managing AFib is another important aspect of treatment, because triggers such as strenuous exercise or heavy alcohol consumption can make the condition worse. It’s always important to be aware of what triggers your AFib and do what you can to avoid those triggers.
Becoming knowledgeable about atrial fibrillation can put you at better odds of avoiding it because you then know what risk factors to dodge through a healthy lifestyle. This potentially dangerous condition can be avoided by eating nutritious, healthy foods, staying active, not smoking or drinking too much alcohol and generally taking care of your body.
Another way to avoid AFib is through a hospital-partnered preventive health screening that can identify the condition with or without symptoms and allow you to treat and manage the condition before it gets worse. The earlier AFib is discovered, the earlier treatment can be implemented, and the healthier your heart will be. Making these actions a priority can give your body the lifelong health it deserves.