Do you ever feel like your heart is skipping a beat and going faster than usual? For many, that heart-pounding feeling can mean excitement, fear or anger; for others, it could mean atrial fibrillation.
Better known as AFib or AF, atrial fibrillation causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver instead of fully contracting. That means the upper chambers can beat as often as 300 times a minute, four times faster than normal. As a result, clots can form and increase your risk of stroke by fivefold.
In the United States, an estimated 2.7 million people are affected by AFib. The common risk factors include age over 60, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart valve disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, sleep apnea, and heavy alcohol use. Cardiac arrhythmia specialist Dr. Janice Chyou points out, “with the aging population, the prevalence of AFib is expected to rise.”
It’s important to become familiar with the symptoms and warning signs. Depending on your age and the impact of AFib on your heart, symptoms can include feeling tired and low on energy, faster-than-normal or irregular pulse, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, pain and tightness in your chest, dizziness, and trouble with everyday activities. Dr. Chyou adds, “while some AFib patients may have more subtle symptoms, or no symptoms at all, the risk for forming clots may still be significant and need to be further assessed.”
AFib can be diagnosed right in your doctor’s office with an electrocardiogram (EKG), or by wearing a mobile device that monitors the heart over a period of time. Once diagnosed, management may include medications, healthy lifestyle changes, and specialized procedures to keep the heart in normal rhythm. “Each AFib patient’s management plan,” Dr. Chyou explains, “may differ and needs to be individualized in partnership with the patient and the treatment team.”
If you think you or someone you know may have AFib, meet with your doctor and find out the best options for you.