Atrial Fibrillation, Arrhythmia, Arrhythmias
What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular heartbeat. It reduces your heart’s ability to pump blood through your body. AFib may come and go, or it may be a long-term condition. AFib can cause life-threatening blood clots, stroke, or heart failure. It is important to treat and manage AFib to help prevent these problems.
What increases my risk for AFib?
- High blood pressure, heart failure, or heart valve disease.
- COPD, sleep apnea, a blood clot in your lung, or other lung diseases.
- Diabetes, obesity, or thyroid disease.
- Heavy alcohol use or large amounts of caffeine.
- Age 65 years or older.
- A family history of AFib or other heart problems.
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
How is AFib diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will examine you. Tell your healthcare provider about your symptoms, health conditions, and medicines. Tell your healthcare provider if you drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use any illegal drugs. You will need an EKG to check your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. You may also need to wear a Holter monitor at home while you do your usual activities. The Holter monitor is a portable EKG machine.
How is AFib treated?
Conditions that cause AFib, such as thyroid disease, will be treated. You may also need any of the following:
- Heart medicines: Heart medicines help control your heart rate and rhythm. You may need more than one medicine to treat your symptoms.
- Antiplatelet and blood thinner medicines: These medicines help prevent blood clots.
- Cardioversion: Cardioversion is a procedure to return your heart rate and rhythm to normal. It can be done using medicines or electric shock.
- AFib ablation: This is a procedure that uses energy to burn a small area of heart tissue. This creates scar tissue and prevents electrical signals that cause AFib. You may need this procedure more than once. Ask for more information on AFib ablation.
- A pacemaker: A pacemaker may be inserted into your heart. A pacemaker is a device that controls your heartbeat. A pacemaker may be inserted during an ablation procedure or surgery. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on pacemakers.
- Surgery: Surgery may be needed if other procedures do not work. During surgery your healthcare provider will make cuts in the upper part of your heart. The provider will stitch the cuts together to create scar tissue. The scar tissue will prevent electrical signals that cause AFib.
Preparing for Care
Call 911 for any of the following:
You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
- Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than five minutes or returns.
- Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm.
- Trouble breathing.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Light headedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing.
You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
- Numbness or drooping on one side of your face.
- Weakness in an arm or leg.
- Confusion or difficulty speaking.
- Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss.
How can you manage AFib?
- Know your target heart rate. Learn how to take your pulse and monitor your heart rate.
- Manage other health conditions. This includes high blood pressure, sleep apnea, thyroid disease, diabetes, and other heart conditions. Take medicine as directed and follow your treatment plan.
- Limit or do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can make AFib hard to manage. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink alcohol. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause heart and lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Eat heart-healthy foods. Heart healthy foods will help keep your cholesterol low. These include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Replace butter and margarine with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask your healthcare provider to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
- Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
When should I seek immediate care?
You have any of the following signs of a blood clot:
- You feel lightheaded, are short of breath, and have chest pain.
- You cough up blood.
- You have swelling, redness, pain, or warmth in your arm or leg.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
- Your target heart rate is not in the range it should be.
- You have new or worsening swelling in your legs, feet, ankles, or abdomen.
- You are short of breath, even at rest.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.