Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common irregular heart rhythm condition. AFib causes erratic, unpredictable electrical activity in your heart’s upper chambers (atria). 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.
AFib may cause symptoms from time to time. These symptoms can be bothersome, but the irregular heartbeats of AFib aren’t life-threatening on their own. 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, but there are several lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk.
More than almost any other factor, what you eat can affect how you feel. Experts such as the American Heart Association (AHA) suggest that people with AFib adopt a diet low in sodium and fat. AFib isn’t a heart disease, but a diet designed for people with heart disease can be helpful for people with AFib. Focus on eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Flavor your food with fresh herbs or vinegars instead of salt. Use lean cuts of meat, and aim to eat fish two to three times per week.
Food can also impact how successful an AFib treatment is. For example, people who use warfarin (Coumadin) 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 taking 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 can 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 (CAD) and cancer. Many people trying to quit have success with over-the-counter smoking cessation patches and gums. If those aren’t successful, talk with your doctor about other medications or therapies. The sooner you can kick the habit, the better.
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. Heavy drinkers and people who binge drink are more likely to experience an AFib episode.
But it’s not just large amounts of alcohol that can put you at risk. A Canadian study found that moderate drinking could cause an AFib episode. For men, this would mean having 1 to 21 drinks in a week. For women, it would mean one to 14 drinks in a week.
Caffeine is a stimulant found in many foods and drinks including coffee, soda, and chocolate. For people with AFib, caffeine may pose a threat since stimulants can increase your heart rate. AFib is sensitive to changes in heart rate, so something that changes your natural rhythm could cause an AFib episode.
But this doesn’t mean you have to cut caffeine completely. A 2005 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, but talk with your doctor about your risks.
Exercise is important for both your overall health and the health of your heart. 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.
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.
Treatment for AFib isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan. People with AFib should create their own treatment plan 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.