What is Atrial Fibrillation or “A-Fib”?
Atrial Fibrillation occurs when blood flows irregularly from the top chambers of the heart to the bottom, causing the beating of the upper and lower chambers to be uncoordinated. This incoordination results in an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. A-fib is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. According to a study from the American Heart Association, A-Fib is one of the leading causes of stroke, making an individual five times more likely to have a stroke if they have A-Fib (Tsao et al, 2022).
I don’t have an A-Fib diagnosis…but what if I have it?
Based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), a lot of people who have atrial fibrillation do not know they have the arrhythmia or do not experience symptoms. They may notice the following:
Heart palpitations (rapid, fluttering, or pounding heartbeat)
Shortness of breath
Be sure to monitor yourself for symptoms like this, especially if you have already had a stroke or any cardiac events. Check in with your doctor for more information or any concerns you may have about the presence of atrial fibrillation.
Who gets A-Fib?
The risk factors for having A-Fib are similar to any cardiac condition and risk factors of stroke. These include things like high blood pressure, age, being overweight, diabetes, heart failure, ischemic heart disease, hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, moderate to heavy alcohol use, smoking, enlargement of the left-sided chambers of the heart, and having European ancestry. Some of these risk factors are out of a person’s control, like genetics and age. However, many of them are modifiable and can be addressed with lifestyle changes.
How can A-Fib be treated?
A-Fib can be successfully managed with pharmaceutical options like blood thinners, making medication management a very important skills with A-Fib and any other chronic illness.
In addition, modifiable risk factors (components you have more control over) can also be effective treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation. These modifiable risk factors include lifestyle and behavioral changes. Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and healthy diet can help reduce the risk of and manage symptoms and worsening of atrial fibrillation.
Now that I am informed…what do I do?
Symptoms of A-Fib are similar to many other conditions or could just be benign. This is why it is important to go to your regular check ups, get a cardiologist, and be sure to self-monitor and keep track of your vitals at home. Using apps to keep track of your blood pressure, heart rate, and vitals that you take at home is a great way to self monitor signs of a cardiac issue. Now that you know the symptoms, you can monitor how you feel throughout the day and during activities to be more aware of your body. When in doubt, reach out to your doctor and get the resources you need.
For more information about atrial fibrillation, visit the CDC’s page on the topic https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/atrial_fibrillation.htm.
At Imago Rehab, we love working with our clients with stroke. BUT we would also love to help people prevent having a stroke or secondary stroke so they DON’T need us! We’re all about teaching people to manage their own health and health conditions. Stay informed!
Continue on our stroke prevention education journey in our next blog post. On Friday, we plan to cover Cholesterol to highlight October as National Cholesterol Awareness Month!
Centers for Control and Prevention. (2018). Atrial fibrillation. Heart disease. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/atrial_fibrillation.htm
Tsao CW, Aday AW, Almarzooq ZI, Beaton AZ, Bittencourt MS, Boehme AK, et al. (2022). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2022 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 145(8):e153–e639.
This blog post does not substitute for medical care and advice provided by a doctor, and is for informational purposes only.