Atrial fibrillation, or AFib for short, is a medical condition that affects your heartbeat. It occurs when your heart’s electrical system makes its upper chambers (the atria) beat much faster than normal, so much so that they quiver, or fibrillate. This causes the lower chambers (the ventricles) to beat out of sync. This condition increases the risk of stroke and heart failure.
When your heart can’t pump blood as it should, blood clots can form. In extreme cases, these clots can travel through your bloodstream to your brain and get stuck, causing a stroke. This risk is why many patients with AFib are put on blood thinners.
Irregular Heart Rhythms
In people without AFib, the atria and ventricles work in sync, so that the heart pumps blood in a steady rhythm. When people have AFib, their heart rate increases to around 100 to 175 beats per minute, as opposed to the normal 60 to 100 beats per minute.
- An uneven pulse
- A racing or pounding heart
- A feeling that your heart is fluttering
- Chest pain
- Feeling short of breath
- Lightheaded or dizziness
As a result of AFib, you might feel dizzy, faint, breathless, weak and fatigued. If symptoms increase greatly and you start to feel severe chest pain or signs of stroke, such as numbness or slurred speech, call 911. Always play it safe! If you’re concerned that you might have AFib, contact your doctor immediately.
AFib is often brought on by conditions that can strain your heart. These include:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attacks
- Heart failure
- Problems with heart valves
- A family history of AFib
Who Is at Risk?
Studies show that the that the prevalence of AFib is 2.3 percent in people over 40 years old and 5.9 percent in those older than 65. About 70 percent of people with AFib are between the ages of 65 and 85. Males have a higher incidence of AFib than women in all age groups.
What Can You To Prevent It?
Avoid drinking too much alcohol, smoking, using stimulants such as caffeine and certain prescription drugs. The best thing you can do is maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a nutritious diet.
One of the keys of treatment is to prevent blot clots from forming. Common medications for this are warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin, though there are others that can help to normalize your heart rate. Rhythm-control drugs help keep the pattern of your heartbeat steady, while rate-control medications keep your heart from beating too fast.
Keep In Mind
AFib can lead to other serious health problems, even before you notice symptoms. According to the National Stroke Association, it’s a good idea to check your pulse once a month. If your rhythm seems unsteady, let your doctor know immediately.