What is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular heart rhythm that begins in the chambers of the heart, called the atria. These chambers may quiver rapidly or beat irregularly, which prevents blood from effectively pumping into the ventricles. The rapid impulses from the atria may sometimes cause the ventricles to pump too rapidly, further decreasing the heart’s effectiveness.

Symptoms of AFib

An irregular heart rate can cause the heart to race or flutter. Because the heart isn’t pumping normally, people with AFib may experience the following symptoms:

  • palpitations or a racing sensation in the heart
  • chest pain, discomfort, or chest pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness
  • fatigue
  • exercise intolerance
  • abdominal pain

These symptoms can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours. For those with chronic AFib, these symptoms can be persistent.

Symptoms may develop occasionally, and sometimes can be resolved without medical treatment. This is known as paroxysmal AFib. Typically, your doctor or cardiologist will prescribe a medication to control symptoms.

Controlling symptoms

The main goal of controlling AFib symptoms is to prevent recurrent episodes. AFib episodes can be triggered when the heart is stimulated or excited. Monitoring your exercise, stress, caffeine intake, and alcohol use can help prevent AFib episodes.

There are two main options when it comes to controlling symptoms: bringing the heart rhythm back to normal or controlling the heart rate. Medications are typically prescribed for both of these options.

Blood thinners or anticoagulants, such as warfarin, are used to prevent a stroke that may result from the irregular beating of the heart. Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and digoxin are used to control the heart rate.

Surgical procedures are another option to bring the heart rate back to normal. Talk to your doctor about what type surgery is right for you if you have persisting AFib, blood clots, or a history of stroke.

Your doctor may decide to insert a pacemaker if you have a slow heart rate. This device sends electrical impulses to the heart muscle, generating a more normal or rhythmic heart rate.

Stroke symptoms

A stroke is one of the most serious complications that can arise from AFib. The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association recommend the F.A.S.T. acronym to detect the signs of a stroke:

  • F: facial drooping
  • A: arm weakness
  • S: speech difficulty
  • T: time to call 9-1-1

Having AFib increases your chances of having a stroke. According to the National Institutes of Health, AFib causes one out of every four strokes after age 80.

One of the best ways to minimize AFib symptoms is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and reducing stress are all beneficial ways to control your symptoms.