Atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib or AF, is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. More than 2.7 million Americans experience A-fib — and many are not aware of the seriousness of the condition.
What are the symptoms of A-fib?
A-fib occurs when one part of the heart does not contract and relax to a regular beat. Instead, the heart’s upper chambers (the atria) beat irregularly. This irregularity is sometimes called quivering, and it prevents the heart from correctly moving blood into the ventricles.
Some people who experience A-fib have no symptoms. Others may have one of more of the following:
- General fatigue
- 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
It’s important to note that many symptoms of A-fib are the same as heart attack symptoms. The main difference is that A-fib symptoms include heart fluttering or palpitations. If you experience any of the above symptoms, especially chest pain or pressure, you may be having a heart attack, and you should seek emergency help by dialing 9-1-1 immediately.
What are the risks of A-fib?
A-fib can appear to be mild when first diagnosed. But the disease can get worse over time and lead to debilitating or life-threatening consequences such as:
- Heart failure
- Alzheimer’s disease
How can I reduce the risks from A-fib?
A-fib can have a variety of underlying causes, including an unhealthy lifestyle such as too much caffeine or not enough exercise, or a thyroid condition. Often, treating these individual causes can greatly reduce the risk of serious consequences. Sometimes these are treated through lifestyle changes and other times they are treated with medication. Treatment for reducing risk from A-fib might include:
- Taking prescribed medication
- Getting regular physical activity
- Monitoring salt, saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in the diet
- Managing high blood pressure
- Avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine
- Not smoking
- Controlling cholesterol
- Maintaining a healthy weight
If you’re at risk for A-fib, talk with your doctor.