Mistakes People with Atrial Fibrillation Make
Wed Nov 13 21:36:11 UTC 2013
Atrial fibrillation—or afib—is the most common heart arrhythmia. It occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and causes the heart to beat too fast and irregularly. If you’re one of the estimated 5.1 million Americans with afib, there are some mistakes you don’t want to make. Read on to learn the afib pitfalls to avoid.
People with afib don’t always have typical symptoms. And sometimes symptoms come and go. This makes it tempting to skip medications, especially if they cause side effects or require lifestyle changes and frequent testing. Some afib medications help prevent blood clots, which can lead to stroke and disability or death. So it’s essential take your afib medications regularly. This includes both medicines that thin your blood and medicines that control your heart’s rate and rhythm.
If you take warfarin (Coumadin) to thin your blood, you know you need to have your blood tested on a regular basis. Your doctor needs to make sure that your blood isn’t too thick or too thin. This monitoring is vital to prevent a dangerous clot or bleeding episode. If blood testing is a problem for you, talk to your doctor about newer blood thinners that don’t need the same monitoring.
Common symptoms of afib include dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. People with afib may also have palpitations or a feeling of fluttering in the chest. If you’re treating your afib and have symptoms, don’t ignore them. It could be sign your treatment isn’t working as well as it should. Contact your doctor to evaluate your treatment plan.
Stroke is one of the main complications of afib. So it’s vital to know the signs of a stroke and know what to do about them. Seek emergency medical treatment if you think you’re having a stroke. Remember FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to dial 911.
Afib can be a bit unpredictable. Your medications will help, but you also need to do your part to keep it under control. This means avoiding common afib triggers, including nicotine, stress, alcohol, caffeine, and some over-the-counter medicines. These triggers affect people differently, but don’t assume they can’t affect you. Ignoring them could complicate your treatment. Talk to your doctor about these triggers and come up with a manageable plan.
In addition to limiting afib triggers, you can do your part by making lifestyle changes. The two big ones are diet and exercise. Exercise can help strengthen your heart, keep a healthy weight, and relieve stress. Eating a heart-healthy diet also helps reach these goals. If you’re on blood thinners, make sure you talk to your doctor about these lifestyle changes. Make one change a week—a 20-minute walk or whole grain toast for breakfast—and pretty soon you’ll realize your goal. Your healthcare team can help!
It can be emotionally difficult to have afib because of the risks and its unpredictability. Some people with afib even struggle with feelings of depression. If you find yourself losing interest in your usual activities, feeling hopeless, or having other lasting emotional problems, seek help. Ignoring signs of emotional stress may prolong your difficulties. Talk to your doctor or find a qualified counselor to help you work through your emotions.
Living with afib can be a challenge—physically, mentally and emotionally. At times, it may be tempting to avoid the issues that come with afib rather than deal with them. But your health is too important to make that mistake. Your healthcare team is your support for staying healthy and managing your life with afib. Talk to your doctor about what is working for you and what isn’t. Together, make a plan for managing your biggest challenges.
Medically Reviewed By: William C. Lloyd III, MD Last Annual Review Date: October 17, 2013
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