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Your Game Plan for Managing Atrial Fibrillation

Your Game Plan for Managing Atrial Fibrillation

Working with your healthcare provider can help you stay active and avoid potential complications.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, fatigue, heart failure and other heart problems. Up to 6 million Americans are living with AFib, and it’s estimated that as many as 12 million will have it by 2030, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The condition may be persistent or it may come and go. The risk of developing AFib increases with age, and it’s often found with other heart diseases or as a complication after heart surgery. Other risk factors for AFib include hypertension, obesity, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, sleep apnea, moderate to heavy alcohol use and smoking.

People with AFib are at risk of forming clots in the upper chambers of the heart because those chambers don’t empty properly, allowing blood to sit and clot. If a clot breaks off, it can flow into an artery that runs to the brain, leading to a stroke. To prevent clots, patients with AFib are typically treated with blood thinners.

Know the symptoms of AFib
Some people don’t realize they have AFib, but many have symptoms that may include:

  • Racing, fluttering, pounding or irregular-feeling heartbeat (called palpitations)
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure

How to avoid complications of AFib
If you have AFib, there are several ways you can reduce your risk of complications. These include:

  • Getting regular physical activity with guidelines set by your healthcare provider (HCP)
  • Controlling cholesterol levels and eating a heart-healthy diet that is low in salt, saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol
  • Managing high blood pressure
  • Avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine
  • Not smoking
  • Managing stress

Understand the treatment options
In addition to preventing blood clots and heart failure, treatment for AFib may include medications to reduce a high heart rate and to restore the heart to a normal rhythm. 

Electrical cardioversion is a procedure in which a low-level electrical shock is applied to the outside of the chest. It can restore regular heart rhythm, but in some cases AFib may return. Medications may be needed over the long term to keep the heart’s rhythm and rate in the best range.

Ablation is used when medications or electrical cardioversion are not preferred or not effective. In ablation, a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) is inserted into a blood vessel and guided to the heart. The catheter delivers energy in the form of radiofrequency (heat), laser or cryotherapy (freezing) to scar the problem areas of the heart so they no longer send abnormal signals. 

Be mindful of your medications
If you are placed on medication it is important that you never miss a dose. Be sure you fill your prescriptions in plenty of time so you don’t run low. Ask your HCP about any medication interactions.

If you are on blood thinners, you should avoid aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) unless your HCP directs you to use them. Remember to discuss with your HCP any vitamins or supplements you plan to take. It is also important to minimize any risk associated with activities that may cause injury or bleeding.

Developing an action plan with your HCP is a valuable step toward managing your AFib. This plan may include your treatments and goals (such as desired heart rate). It may also describe the frequency of tests you need to take to monitor blood thinners and any follow-up appointments and dietary or activity restrictions you may need to observe.

Medically reviewed in October 2020.

Sources:

Stiell IG, Sivilotti MLA, Taljaard M, et al. "Electrical versus pharmacological cardioversion for emergency department patients with acute atrial fibrillation (RAFF2): a partial factorial randomised trial." Lancet. 2020;395(10221):339-349.
Cha M-J, Oh GC, Lee H, Park HE, Choi S-Y, Oh S. "Alcohol consumption and risk of atrial fibrillation in asymptomatic healthy adults." Heart Rhythm. July 2020.
Voskoboinik A, Prabhu S, Ling L-H, Kalman JM, Kistler PM. "Alcohol and atrial fibrillation: A sobering review." J Am Coll Cardiol. 2016;68(23):2567-2576.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Atrial Fibrillation." Published September 8, 2020.
January CT, Wann LS, Alpert JS, et al. "2014 AHA/ACC/HRS guideline for the management of patients with atrial fibrillation: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on practice guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society." Circulation. 2014;130(23):e199-267.

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