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How to Live With AFib

April 26, 2018

 This blog was written in conjunction with Mary Janette Sendin, Atrial Fibrillation Patient Care Coordinator.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of the most common heart conditions. If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib, you’re among the 2.7 million Americans living with the condition. The number of people with AFib is undoubtedly higher, but some may not have symptoms and won’t know until they visit a doctor.

What Is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, have an irregular heartbeat. The heart beats too quickly due to electrical signals in the heart that misfire. Because of this, blood may pool in the chamber and a clot can form. Once the clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain and block an artery, causing a stroke. Someone with AFib is five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without this condition.

AFib risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Sleep apnea

  • Diabetes

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Coronary artery disease

AFib Triggers

The American College of Cardiology lists certain factors that can bring on an episode of AFib in those who already have it, including:

  • Infections

  • Heart failure

  • Too much alcohol

  • Caffeine

  • Skipping medications to treat AFib

  • Smoking or taking stimulants

Tips for Living With AFib

AFib is usually treated with medication or lifestyle changes. Non-surgical and surgical treatment options also may be considered. But no matter how you choose to treat AFib, it is important to know how to live with this condition.

But no matter how you choose to treat AFib, it is important to know how to live with this condition.
1. Learn about AFib and know the symptoms.

2. Know signs and symptoms of a stroke. Having AFib increases the chance of a stroke, so make sure you and those around you can recognize a stroke. The National Stroke Association lists warning signs of a stroke with the acronym FAST:

  • Face: Does one side of the face droop when the person tries to smile?
  • Arms: Can the person raise both arms or does one arm drift down?
  • Speech: Can the person repeat a simple phrase without sounding slurred or garbled?
  • Time: If any of these signs exist, call 911 right away.

3. To prevent strokes, patients with AFib are placed on blood thinners. However, blood thinners can increase your risk for bleeding. Take your medication as prescribed, but avoid falls or injuries that may cause you to bleed. Know the signs of bleeding and call your doctor if you experience:

  • Unusual bleeding from your gums
  • Frequent nose bleeds

  • Heavier than normal menstrual bleeding

  • Red, pink or brown urine

  • Bloody or black, tarry stools

  • Coughing up blood

  • Vomiting blood

  • Sudden or severe headache (this can be a sign of stroke)

If symptoms get worse or you have bleeding you cannot control, call 911.

4. Take medications as prescribed. Skipping medications can trigger an AFib episode. Make sure you know if the medication is to be taken in the morning or evening and with or without food. Also be aware of potential side effects and how the medications may interact with other prescription or over-the-counter drugs, vitamins or supplements.

5. Be aware of AFib’s link to other conditions,  such as sleep apnea. Researchers have found a strong correlation between sleep apnea and AFib. Research showssleep apnea can trigger AFib, and treating sleep apnea can decrease episodes of AFib.

6. Eat a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils. The American Heart Association also recommends limiting saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, red meats, and sugary foods and beverages.

7. Avoid caffeine, smoking, alcohol and illegal drugs. These can act as stimulants and affect your heart rate, triggering AFib episodes.

8. Find ways to lower stress. Anger and anxiety can make AFib worse by causing a faster heart rate. Look for ways to relax, whether it’s through exercise, a hobby or spending time with friends and family.

9. Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight can decrease symptoms of AFib and reduce the amount of medication needed.

10. Control other health conditions. If you’ve been diagnosed with other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, work with your medical team to monitor and manage those.

11. Find support. To learn more about AFib and  how others are living with the condition, check out the American Heart Association’s site, My AFib Experience.


Learn more about Orlando Health's Atrial Fibrillation Program

The Orlando Health Heart Institute uses the most advanced technology and procedures in Central Florida to treat atrial fibrillation.

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