Living a Normal Life with AFIB
AFIB, more formally known as atrial fibrillation, is a medical condition that causes your heart to beat irregularly and at an abnormally fast rate. It is a disease that can lead to heart failure, stroke or other heart complications.
When you suffer from AFIB, the heart’s two upper chambers, the atria, beat at an abnormal and irregular rate and out of sync with the two lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles. As a result of this problem, you will notice heart palpatations and experience a feeling of weakness and shortness of breath. AFIB can come and go at irregular intervals or strike a person to the point that it doesn’t subside and requires treatment.
In most instances, AFIB is not life threatening, but it is important to do your part to seek medical treatment and make certain lifestyle changes so that it is manageable. It is important to keep in mind that atrial fibrillation is indeed a serious medical condition that may occasionally require emergency treatment. One of the most serious things that can happen with the illness is that blood clots can form in the heart, resulting in blood flow being blocked to other organs. This complication is known as ischemia.
Many people who have AFIB have no symptoms and don’t know they have the disease until a physical exam and the doctor detects it. However, those who do exhibit symptoms can experience fatigue, weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, confusion, lightheadedness and confusion. It may also be difficult to exercise or walk for long stretches. It is important to see your doctor if you experience any combination of these symptoms.
There are a number of possible causes of atrial fibrillation. These include sleep apnea, coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, exposure to stimulants, stress due to illness or surgery, lung disease, sick sinus syndrome, overactive thyroid, congential heart defect, previous heart surgery or viral infection. Your risk of developing AFIB increases due to age, alcohol consumption, obesity, high blood pressure,
heart disease, certain chronic medical conditions and family history.
While AFIB can be distressing, it is possible to live with the condition. There are a number of things you can do to improve your condition and overall lifestyle as well. A conscious effort at stress management is important, as it can help to regulate your heart rate. Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight and consume only heart-healthy food like whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables.
In addition, don’t smoke and avoid alcohol. If you do smoke, quit smoking as soon as possible, as the addictive habit can increase your risk of heart complications and stroke as it constricts blood vessels.
The kind of treatment you receive for AFIB greatly depends on how long you have had the condition and its level of problems caused. In general, treatment for AFIB involves the prevention of blood clots and resetting the rhythm of the heart or control the heart rate. For preventing blood clots, there are certain medications your doctor can prescribe to you, such as anticoagulants like Warfarin. Over the counter medications like aspirin can also improve your condition, particularly if you cannot take blood thinners or have a lower risk of stroke.
If the doctor aims to reset the rhythm of your heart, cardioversion is the treatment option you will receive. It can be done using electrical cardioversion, in which an electric shock is given to the heart with paddles or patches on the chest. There are also anti-arrhythmic drugs that can restore the normal sinus rhythm to the heart that can be administered orally or intravenously. Most often, these are given in the hospital while your heart rate is monitored.