If you suffer from atrial fibrillation (often referred to as A-fib), you are certainly not alone. More than 2.2 million Americans are currently living with this common type of irregular heartbeat, many of whom continue to live healthy, active lives.
A-fib itself is not a life-threatening condition, but it is a major risk factor for heart failure and stroke. Because of this, it is important to understand the symptoms and talk to your doctor about a treatment plan, which may include surgery, non-surgical procedures and/or medications. The primary goal in treating A-fib is to regain a normal heartbeat, but your doctor will also work with you to improve your general heart health, thereby reducing your risk of serious complications.
Before making any major lifestyle changes, it’s always best to talk to your doctor to determine what works best for you. These tips should point you in the right direction for improved health and a happier heart.
Skip the Booze
Drinking alcohol, especially binge drinking, may trigger atrial fibrillation. In fact, A-fib has even earned the moniker “Holiday Heart” because of its prevalence around the holiday season, when social drinking hits its peak. Binge drinking has many negative consequences, but for people living with A-fib, the consequences are even higher. Alcohol can affect the electrical impulses of the heart, triggering A-fib symptoms, and it can increase your risk of stroke. While your doctor can make a recommendation best suited for you, the American Heart Association says men should have no more than one or two drinks per day, and women should stick to only one drink per day.
Eat for Your Heart
When you have a known heart condition, those heart-healthy foods you see on the grocery store shelves are made just for you. Improving the overall health of your heart and lowering your blood pressure will greatly reduce your risk of stroke and heart failure, potentially adding years to your life. So, what exactly is a heart-healthy diet? It’s essentially like any healthy diet, but with a special focus on reducing saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. If the idea of a diet feels too constricting, instead of thinking about what you can’t eat, focus on what you can and should be eating: fiber-rich whole grains, lots of fruits and veggies, and lean proteins, like fish.
Take Your Meds
Medications are often an important part of managing A-fib symptoms. There are drugs that help you regain a normal heart rate, and others that help decrease the chance of blood clots forming. No matter your treatment plan, be responsible about taking your medications. Always take exactly as prescribed, and tell your doctor about side effects or other medications you are taking.
Listen to Your Heart
If there are certain activities that cause your heart to beat irregularly, do your best to avoid them. Take charge of your health and make sure you understand your condition fully. Knowing the symptoms of A-fib and what triggers them is an important part of your treatment plan. Don’t forget to tell your family and close friends about your condition and the lifestyle changes you are making. Their support can help you stick to a heart-healthy plan.
You know smoking is bad for your lungs, but did you know that nicotine is also a cardiac stimulant? That type of stimulation may not only trigger A-fib, but it can also cause coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and blood clotting. That is a bad combination of dangerous risk factors. If you’re a regular smoker and have been diagnosed with A-fib, now is the time to quit. There are many free resources to help you cut the habit. Call 1-800-QUITNOW for help.
Read the Labels
Reading labels is critical both in the grocery store and at the pharmacy. In foods, look for low sodium, low fat options. No matter what it says on the front of the box, check the label on the back for calorie count and serving size, trans fats, cholesterol, and sugar. In the pharmacy, look out for medications with stimulants that could trigger A-fib symptoms. If you’re not sure what to take, ask your doctor for a recommendation.
Don’t Be Afraid to Exercise
With a heart condition, it’s understandable that you may be hesitant about over-exerting yourself. But physical activity is one of the best ways to improve the health of your heart. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can improve blood circulation and lower your blood pressure, both of which greatly reduce your risk of stroke while living with A-fib. Exercise can also help you lose weight, putting less strain on your heart. Before you start any exercise plan, be sure to talk to your doctor about any limitations.
Dealing with a serious health condition like A-fib can be emotionally draining and stressful. Make sure you address your emotional well being as much as your physical health. Use your support system of family and friends as you make lifestyle changes to improve your heart. And most of all, don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal—a healthier heart and longer, more enjoyable life.