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AFib: Managing Long-Term Care

If you have fast or extra heartbeats, you might be suffering from atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a heart condition that affects millions of Americans. AFib can lead to more serious conditions, but there are ways to manage it. 

Usually, the sinus node of the heart is the regulator of the heart’s electrical rhythm. In patients with AFib, many different electrical impulses fire at once, causing a very fast, chaotic rhythm in the atria. 

AFib Usually Comes Back 

AFib is a recurring and chronic condition that affects at least 2.7 million Americans. You can experience AFib multiple times throughout your lifetime, though the frequency and lifestyle impact of recurrence varies.

While the irregular heartbeat associated with AFib is constant, acute symptoms vary from patient to patient. One hundred people with AFib can have the same electrocardiogram (EKG) results — the test that records the electrical signal from your heart — but each patient may experience different symptoms from the same condition. Even so, there are several symptoms to look out for: 

  • Fluttering sensation in the chest

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Lightheadedness

  • Fatigue 

Some patients with AFib don’t experience acute symptoms at all or aren’t as bothered by them, so it’s possible that more people have AFib than we know about, as these asymptomatic patients may not seek care. 

AFib Can Lead to More Serious Conditions 

AFib can make the heart weaker because it’s working harder on a daily basis, and the condition can increase your risk of developing the following conditions: 

  • Stroke

  • Heart attack

  • Heart failure

  • Uncontrolled hypertension

  • Blood clots 

EKG and rhythm monitoring are the main ways to detect AFib. A blood pressure cuff or another device that checks your oxygen may also detect an irregularity. 

Some wearables, like smartwatches and fitness trackers, are now equipped with heart monitoring software similar to an EKG that can spot irregularities in heartbeat. 

The way you manage AFib depends on your medical history and age but is likely a lifelong regimen. If you have certain risk factors, your doctor will determine if a blood-thinning medication is right for you. Treatment also depends on the severity of your AFib. Additional management options include: 

Lifestyle changes: An exercise and healthy eating program that leads to weight loss in obese patients can decrease the frequency of AFib symptoms. Those who have other medical problems — like sleep apnea — may be able to reduce AFib if they treat those conditions. 

Medicine: Medicines such as blood thinners, antiarrhythmic medications and beta blockers can stabilize your heart rhythm and have a success rate of about 50 percent. 

Ablation: A cardiac electrophysiologist can temporarily insert specialized catheters into the veins of the atrium and ablate the abnormal tissue causing electric signals. Additional monitoring is essential here, and treatment can be modified as needed. 

With treatment and management, most people with AFib live full and active lives. As treatment options and knowledge of the condition has expanded, overall deaths from AFib-related illnesses and cardiac events have dropped. 

It’s important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing a rapid heartbeat, if you’re more tired than usual or if you’re unable to complete an exercise routine that you once could finish without a problem.

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