Atrial Fibrillation Resources
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Approximately 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib). AF is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. Some people refer to it as a quivering heart.
About 15%–20% of people who have strokes have AF, which produces an increased stroke risk of about 5% per year.
When functioning normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat, effectively moving blood into the ventricles. In this heart arrhythmia, the atria (upper chambers of the heart) beat irregularly (quiver).
That quivering can cause the blood to pool and clot. A stroke results if a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream, and lodges in an artery leading to the brain. Patients with AF are prescribed blood thinners to reduce this clot risk.
AF is the most common "serious" heart rhythm abnormality in people older than 65. Many people are unaware of how serious AF is, even though untreated AF doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and increases the risk for stroke by 4–5 times.
Signs and Symptoms
In addition to its most common symptom—a quivering or fluttering heartbeat—AF can produce some or all of these symptoms (and some people have no noticeable symptoms at all):
- General fatigue
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- "Thumping" in the chest
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Faintness or confusion
- Fatigue when exercising
- Chest pain or pressure
Risk Factors and Causes
Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce risk for the onset of AF. If you already have AF, take all prescribed medications. Properly treating and managing your condition can help reduce the risk of AF's harmful consequences.
- Be physically active.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
- Manage high blood pressure.
- Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine.
- Don’t smoke.
- Control cholesterol.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
There are other underlying conditions that can contribute to the onset of AF and should be controlled or treated:
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid disease
- Chronic lung disease
- Other heart conditions
- Family history
Increased Risk of Stroke
Someone with AF is at up to 5 times greater risk of stroke than is a person without it.
Treating AF is key in preventing (reducing the risk for) stroke.
Lead a Heart Healthy Lifestyle
Up to 80% of strokes are preventable. Modifying your lifestyle and following your doctor's treatment regimen can help you control your risk factors.
Know your Treatment Goals
Atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib) treatment goals start with a proper diagnosis after a physician's in-depth examination. BMG -Stern Cardiovascular Foundation offers exams for AFib, and Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto offers advanced treatment options if the patient is diagnosed. The exam usually includes questions about your history and often includes an EKG or ECG. Some patients may need a thorough electrophysiology study.
Prevention and Risk Reduction
Although it is impossible to guarantee that a stroke or a clot is preventable, it is possible to reduce risks for developing these problems.
Once a patient has been diagnosed with AF, ideal goals may include:
- Rhythm control: restoring the heart to a normal rhythm
- Rate control: reducing an overly high heart rate
- Preventing blood clots (prevention of thromboembolism such as stroke)
- Managing risk factors for stroke
- Preventing additional heart rhythm problem
- Preventing heart failure
In some cases, treating an underlying condition may help avoid AF and lower your stroke risk. For example, if hyperthyroidism is the cause of AF, treating the thyroid condition may be enough to make AF go away.
Different medications, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, can help control the heart rate during AF. Although these medications do not cure the rhythm abnormality, they do slow the heart rate and can help improve symptoms.