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Complications of AFib: Is It Ever Fatal?

Atrial fibrillation

Key points

  1. Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is a condition in which your heart doesn’t beat properly.
  2. AFib can lead to potentially deadly complications such as stroke and heart failure.
  3. Practicing a heart-healthy lifestyle can help prevent these complications.

Atrial fibrillation is also known as AF or AFib. It’s a condition in which your heart doesn’t beat normally.

If you have AFib, the two upper chambers of your heart, known as your atria, beat out of rhythm with the lower chambers. As a result, your heart works harder, is less efficient, and doesn’t circulate blood properly throughout your body.

Symptoms of AFib can include fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

AFib is a serious diagnosis. While this condition isn’t fatal in itself, it can lead to potentially life-threatening complications. Two of the most common complications of AFib are stroke and heart failure, both of which can be fatal if not managed quickly and effectively.

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Stroke

One complication of AFib: stroke

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries blood to your brain becomes blocked. This prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching your brain. When your brain is deprived of oxygen, it can be permanently damaged. This can result in lasting disability or even death.

According to the American Heart Association, people with AFib are about five times more likely to experience a stroke than the average person. When blood isn’t circulating through your body properly, blood clots are more likely to form. These clots can travel to your brain, become lodged in narrow blood vessels, and cause a stroke.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

The symptoms of a stroke are often easily recognizable. They can include:

  • numbness or weakness on one side of your body
  • drooping on one side of your face
  • loss of balance or coordination or a sudden inability to walk
  • sudden difficulty seeing, especially in only one eye
  • suddenly feelings of confusion or disorientation
  • sudden headache

What should you do in case of a stroke?

If you think you may be having a stroke, call 911 or other emergency number. Or find someone who can get emergency medical help for you. Getting immediate medical attention is essential. Early treatment for stroke can improve your prognosis.

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Heart failure

Another complication of AFib: heart failure

Heart failure occurs when your heart is unable to pump blood efficiently. If you have AFib, your heart may not be able to pump blood forcefully or efficiently enough to push it to where it needs to go. That’s why you’re more likely to develop heart failure if you have AFib.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

Heart failure tends to develop over time. The warning signs may appear gradually. Some possible symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • persistent wheezing or coughing
  • fluid buildup and swelling in your abdomen, legs, and ankles
  • confusion or disorientation
  • rapid heart beat

What should you do in case of heart failure?

In many cases, it’s possible to live for years with heart failure. It’s more common than you might think. An estimated 5.7 million Americans live with the condition, reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

If you develop symptoms of heart failure, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you identify the underlying cause of your condition and develop a treatment plan. For example, they may recommend lifestyle changes or medications. In some cases, they may suggest surgery or other procedures. Following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan can help improve your outlook.

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Prevention

How you can avoid the complications of atrial fibrillation

If you’re diagnosed with AFib, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan. For example, take medications as prescribed and adjust your lifestyle if needed.

Practicing heart-healthy habits can help lower your risk of complications, including stroke and heart failure. For example:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise, including aerobic exercise.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in salt, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoid tobacco products and second-hand smoke.
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose levels.
  • Attend regular checkups with your doctor and report any changes to your health.

It’s also important to take steps to maintain good mental health. For example:

  • Maintain positive friendships.
  • Make time for hobbies you enjoy.
  • Practice stress-relief strategies such as meditation, rhythmic breathing, or journaling.
  • Seek professional help for mental health conditions such as depression.

In addition to AFib, several other health conditions can also raise your risk of stroke and heart failure. These include:

If you’ve been diagnosed with any of these conditions, or other chronic health problems, follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan.

When you have AFib, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to manage your symptoms and reduce your risk of complications. With proper treatment, it’s possible to live a long and enjoyable life. But it’s up to you to follow your doctor’s recommendations and stay as healthy as you can.

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