You have undoubtedly heard of Afib either because you or someone you know has been diagnosed with it. Any kind of heart condition requires immediate attention and treatment. Afib is a heart condition that can have serious consequences if left untreated. The best approach to heart health is to stop and take an honest look at your overall lifestyle and health habits. It’s never too late to get started on a path to lifelong wellness.
What is Afib?
Afib is an irregular and often rapid heartbeat that can increase stroke risk, heart failure, and other heart complications. One of the main concerns with Afib is the potential for blood clots to develop in the upper chambers of the heart, which can lead to blood flow blockages. About 15-20 percent of people who have strokes have Afib, and at least 2.7 million Americans have Afib.
Periods of Afib may come and go, or can persist, requiring treatment. One of the challenges with Afib is helping people to understand and appreciate how serious this condition is. Additionally, some people have no symptoms at all and only discover that they have Afib upon routine examination. For people who do have symptoms, these are the ones, according to the American Heart Association, to have checked:
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Faintness or confusion
- Fatigue when exercising
- Chest pain or pressure
What Causes Afib?
In many Afib cases, the customary causes are absent with no discernible reason known. For other people, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart attack, viral infections, sleep apnea, lung diseases, exposure to stimulants, and abnormal heart valves, are possible causes.
Certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing Afib. These include older age, heart disease, chronic medical conditions, drinking alcohol, obesity, and family history.
Treatment of Afib
Diagnosis of Afib is done through several different methods. These include electrocardiogram, a Holter monitor to record your heart’s activity over a period of 24 hours, an echocardiogram, blood tests, stress test, and chest x-ray.
Medical treatment of Afib depends on how long you have had the condition, the cause, and intensity of symptoms. There are several methods to treat Afib:
- Reset the heart rate through Cardioversion, which can be done by electrical shock or drugs.
- After cardioversion, the physician may prescribe anti-arrhythmic drugs to prevent future episodes of Afib.
- Other drugs are used alone to control how fast your heart beats.
- A catheter ablation inserts long tubes into the groin and guides them to the vessels in your heart. The catheter’s tip produces extreme cold or heat, which destroys the areas that are causing the irregular heartbeats.
- Blood clot prevention for people who have Afib is critical. There are anticoagulants and other procedures to reduce stroke risk.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Treat Afib
Heart health is vital to everyone. Heart disease is the number one killer in the US, and with those kinds of statistics, doing what you can to prevent heart disease and Afib makes sense. In the process of reducing your risk for heart disease, Afib, stroke, and heart failure, you will most likely feel better as well.
- Quit Smoking
If you are a smoker, you should stop as soon as possible. Smoking is not only a stimulant, but is a risk factor for cancer and coronary artery disease. People can and do quit smoking with the help of patches and gums. Quitting smoking will also allow you to increase your activity level.
- Limit Caffeine
Caffeine is another stimulant that can increase your heart rate. Remember that caffeine is found in chocolate, soda, and of course, coffee.
- Limit Alcohol Intake
Studies show that alcohol intake can trigger an Afib episode. And it is not just binge drinking that can have adverse effects. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can trigger Afib.
- Focus on a Heart-Healthy Diet
Dietary recommendations can be very confusing since recommendations seem to change all of the time. But, there are heart-healthy strategies that have not only stood the test of time but have been proven to have wide-ranging benefits. These are the basics:
- Focus on Fresh Vegetables and Fruit. Aim for seven-nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Eat More Fiber. Fiber can reduce cholesterol and benefit blood sugar levels, promote weight loss and prevent gastrointestinal disease.
- Increase Plant Protein. Americans love their meat, but animal products increase your cholesterol and contain saturated fat, contributing to heart disease. There are more and more plant-based “meat” products that will surprise you in how much they taste like the real thing.
- Increase Whole Grains. Whole grains have more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
Exercise has benefits beyond the prevention of Afib, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Exercise helps to maintain function as well as improving cognition and mood. Almost any kind of movement is beneficial whether it be brisk walking, yoga, or strength training.
- Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
A body mass index, or BMI of 18 to 24.9 is considered healthy. Obesity contributes to all kinds of health problems so taking steps to manage your weight will have benefits beyond prevention and treatment of Afib.
Afib: Taking a Proactive Approach
As with any serious health condition, a proactive, positive approach will help you tackle the problem. Since Afib can be “silent” it is crucial to have regular yearly physician appointments. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with Afib, know that there are lifestyle changes you can make to change the trajectory of the disease. Meanwhile, any heart healthy choices you make now, will have benefits far beyond what you thought possible.