Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage AFib
Find out how basic lifestyle changes can make a big difference in managing atrial fibrillation.
The Basics of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common irregular heart rhythm condition. AFib causes erratic, unpredictable electrical activity in your heart’s upper chambers. During an AFib event, electrical signals make the heart beat rapidly and irregularly. These chaotic heartbeats can cause a variety of symptoms, including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Treatment for AFib often includes a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. Click through this slideshow to learn about lifestyle changes that can help reduce AFib events and symptoms.
Living with Atrial Fibrillation
AFib may cause symptoms from time to time. These symptoms can be bothersome, but AFib is not life threatening on its own. In other words, the irregular heartbeats will not create a life-threatening situation. The greatest risk from AFib is stroke or heart failure. People with AFib have an increased risk for these two deadly complications.
Your lifestyle can greatly impact your risk for AFib events, stroke, and heart failure. Adopting certain lifestyle changes can help reduce that risk.
Develop a Better Diet
More than almost any other factor, what you eat can affect how you feel. Doctors suggest people with AFib adopt a low-sodium and low-fat diet. AFib is not a heart disease, but a diet designed for people with heart disease is a good idea for people with AFib. Focus on eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Use fresh herbs or vinegars instead of salt. Use lean cuts of meat, and aim to eat fish two to three times per week.
Keep an Eye on K
Food can also impact how successful an AFib treatment is. For example, people who use warfarin to reduce their risk for blood clots must be aware of their vitamin K intake. Vitamin K, a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and fish, plays a role in the body’s production of clotting factors. The consumption of vitamin K-rich foods while on warfarin can cause unsteady clotting levels. This affects your stroke risk. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the significance of vitamin K intake for your treatment.
If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib, it’s time to put down the cigarettes. Nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes, is a stimulant. Stimulants increase your heart rate and possibly cause an AFib event.
Additionally, quitting is good for your overall health. Smoking is a risk factor for several chronic diseases, including coronary artery disease and cancer. Try over-the-counter products first. Many people have success with smoking cessation patches and gums. If those are not successful, talk with your doctor about other medications or therapies. The sooner you can kick the habit, the better.
Limit Alcohol Intake
A glass of wine may help take the edge off a bad day, but it could cause serious problems for your heart if you have AFib. Studies show that alcohol can trigger an AFib episode. It’s not just large amounts of alcohol either. A Canadian study found that moderate drinking—one to 21 drinks in a week for men, one to 14 drinks in a week for women—could cause an AFib episode. Heavy drinkers and people who binge drink are more likely to experience an AFib episode, too.
Kick the Coffee
Caffeine is a stimulant found in many foods and drinks including coffee, soda, and chocolate. For people with AFib, it may pose a threat. Stimulants increase your heart rate. AFib is sensitive to changes in heart rate. Something that changes your natural rhythm could cause an AFib episode.
However, all is not lost if you can’t go without your morning cup of joe. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that only high doses of caffeine drinks are problematic—a cup of coffee is likely fine for most people. Talk with your doctor about your risks.
Lace up your walking shoes and hit the track. Exercise is important for your overall health and your heart’s health too. Regular physical activity can prevent a number of conditions and diseases that complicate AFib, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly cancer.
Exercise is good for your mind, too. For some people, dealing with AFib can cause great anxiety and fear. Exercise can help naturally improve your mood and prevent emotional issues.
Take a Break
Rest and relaxation are beneficial to your body and your mind. Stress and anxiety can cause dramatic physical and chemical changes, especially to your heart. Proper relaxation can help heal the damage. If you make time on your calendar for business meetings and appointments, you need to make time for fun, too. Give yourself a better work-life balance, and your heart will thank you for it.
Design Your Own Treatment with Your Doctor
Treatment for AFib is not a one-size-fits-all plan. Each person with AFib will need to create their own plan of treatment with their doctor. This plan will probably include both medications and lifestyle changes. Finding the best treatment plan may take some time. Your doctor may try several types of treatments with you before finding one that best helps prevent AFib symptoms. In time, however, you’ll be able to prevent some of your risk factors and reduce the likelihood of AFib-related complications.