Talking With Your Doctor About Atrial Fibrillation
If you’ve been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (afib)—an irregular heartbeat—you may be concerned about what types of treatment you’ll need and what it means for your future. Many people with the condition live long, active lives. Some can even be cured. But it’s important to work closely with your doctor to find the right atrial fibrillation treatment for your specific needs. Keep in mind that not every case of afib is the same. What is appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another. To help you manage your condition with confidence, learn what questions to ask your doctor after receiving an atrial fibrillation diagnosis.
Sometimes, afib occurs for no known reason. But some underlying conditions can increase your risk. Examples include high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, sleep apnea, hyperthyroidism and more. It’s important to pinpoint these health conditions. By treating underlying conditions, you may improve your afib.
Afib symptoms may include palpitations (feelings that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering or thumping hard), shortness of breath and dizziness. Some people with afib have symptoms occasionally. Others have them much more frequently. How often you experience symptoms is a sign of how serious your afib is and how you should be treated.
No matter how often you experience symptoms of afib, it’s important to see a doctor. Many people with the condition never feel their symptoms but are still at increased risk for complications, such as stroke, if they are not treated properly.
Symptoms can sometimes be triggered by different factors such as alcohol, caffeine, stress, getting up in the middle of the night after being fully asleep and others. Triggers can be different for everyone. Try to identify yours and then work to avoid them.
The main goal of afib treatment is to prevent stroke. People with afib are five times more likely to have a stroke than those without it. Because the condition causes blood to pool in the heart, blood clots can form. If a clot breaks off and travels to the brain, you can suffer a stroke. Typically, medications like blood thinners are used to reduce your stroke risk.
Other afib treatments work to control your heart’s rate and rhythm. These may include medication or electrical procedures, such as electrical cardioversion or catheter ablation. In other cases, an implantable device like a pacemaker may be necessary.
Your doctor will also work to treat any underlying conditions that increase your risk of afib.
For reasons not completely understood, sometimes a person’s heart corrects its abnormal rhythm on its own. This is especially true for those who do not have frequent symptoms. As a result, not everyone with afib requires treatment right away.
Healthy lifestyle habits can help manage your condition. Ask your doctor for information about the DASH eating plan, which can help lower your blood pressure. Also, work with your doctor to keep your cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control. And try to limit or avoid alcohol. As with all health issues, make sure you visit your doctor regularly and take all medications as prescribed. Ask if there are other steps you can take to improve your condition.
For help in partnering with your doctor in your care, the American Heart Association provides a worksheet to fill out with your doctor. It can help you discuss all the important aspects of your condition and better understand your treatment. Download the worksheet at www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_423745.pdf.
- Many people with afib live long, active lives. But it’s important to work closely with your doctor to find the right treatment for your specific needs.
- Underlying conditions can increase your risk of afib. Examples include high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, sleep apnea, and hyperthyroidism.
Healthy lifestyle habits can help manage your condition. Lower your blood pressure by eating right, work with your doctor to keep your cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control, and limit or avoid alcohol.