What is AFib?

AFib (Atrial Fibrillation, sometimes abbreviated as AF) is a specific type of heart arrhythmia, and it occurs when the heart’s upper chambers begin to beat out of sync with the lower chambers. This inhibits the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently throughout the body.

What conditions can lead to AFib?

It’s possible for anyone to contract AFib, but there are certain factors that place people in greater risk. These risk factors include high blood pressure, advanced age, obesity, chronic medical problems, excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking, sleep apnea, and previous heart conditions (such as a heart attack or other problems with the heart valves). A family history of AFib may also increase your risk, but the evidence is still in dispute.

Is it possible that I have AFib and don’t know it?

Some patients can live with AFib and experience no symptoms at all, or only extremely mild symptoms. They may not even know they have the condition unless they undergo an EKG, which is a test that monitors the electrical activity of the heart (read more here). On the other hand, many patients can experience severe symptoms after contracting AFib, such as shortness of breath, erratic heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue, and more.

Is AFib a serious medical condition?

AFib is a serious medical condition, but the severity can vary greatly from case to case. In general, the condition of AFib itself is not considered a medical emergency, but it can lead to other serious problems that require emergency medical assistance. In some cases, the heart’s rhythm may be so irregular that immediate medical intervention may be necessary, but you should see a doctor as soon as possible no matter how mild your AFib symptoms are.

What other problems can result from AFib?

The elevated risk of a stroke in patients with AFib is the most serious concern that the condition carries. AFib increases the likelihood of a stroke by a factor of five, and strokes are the most common medical emergency for people living with AFib. If you have AFib and are experiencing any of the common symptoms of a stroke, such as face drooping, arm weakness, or speech difficulty, it’s imperative to call 911 immediately.

Additionally, AFib can weaken the heart muscle over time. Patients who have been living with AFib for longer periods of time are generally at a greater risk for heart failure due to the degeneration of the muscle.

How will AFib impact my long-term health?

AFib and its risks can be successfully managed so that you can live a full and healthy life. Minimizing the risk of stroke is the most important factor for the long-term health of AFib patients, so it’s important to work with your doctor to ensure you are following a plan designed to achieve this. You should always be eating a heart-healthy diet, getting adequate exercise, abstaining from smoking, and monitoring your blood pressure levels.

Is there a cure for AFib?

The medical community refrains from designating AFib as a “curable” condition, but it can be successfully treated and managed in many situations. In some patients, if the underlying causes of AFib episodes are treated the condition may never return. It’s possible to experience ongoing symptoms related to AFib, or for the symptoms to end on their own. All AFib patients should maintain a schedule of regular checkups with a heart specialist.

What should I do if I think I have AFib?

The first step should be to see a doctor as soon as possible. You can choose to see a cardiologist, which is a general heart specialist, or an electrophysiologist. An electrophysiologist has undergone additional fellowship training in the electrical activity of the heart, and they are authorized to surgically implant devices that can help manage AFib.

Will I need to make lifestyle adjustments if I’m diagnosed with AFib?

It depends on the current lifestyle you are living, but your doctor may make recommendations in order to reduce your risk of stroke while treating AFib. Proper diet and exercise are vital, and your doctor may also urge you to quit smoking or consuming alcohol to lessen your risk. You may also need to go on medication designed to reduce the likelihood of blood clots, which can lead to a stroke.

Is it possible to predict an AFib episode?

There is no reliable method for predicting the onset of AFib, which is why so much attention is paid to limiting the risk factors in patients with the condition.

How is AFib treated?

Afib is typically treated via two methods, medication or implanted devices. Medications can include antiarrhythmic agents or beta-blockers, which are used to control the rhythm of the heart. Blood-thinning medications may also be necessary to lessen the chances of a stroke.

There are also some specialized methods for treating AFib, which include implantable devices that control the electrical activity in the heart’s chambers.

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