Do You Know the Early Signs of Atrial Fibrillation?

Are you in tune with what’s happening to your heart? Heart health problems are one of the biggest killers in the world. However, many people don’t realize when something isn’t quite right with one of the body’s most important organs. Your heart could be beating irregularly, could be out of rhythm, or could have a changing speed.

All of these potential problems are typically associated with one specific condition: atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, occurs when there’s a problem with your heartbeat rate or rhythm. Your heart can beat so fast – or so out of sync – that it can cause serious complications. It could even result in deadly issues like stroke or heart failure.

And few people realize just how serious of a condition atrial fibrillation is. According to a survey by the American Heart Association, just 33 percent of people with Afib actually think it’s a condition that’s worth worrying about. Only half understand that they could die from it.

Don’t wait to understand Afib until it’s too late. Know your potential risks, and what the condition can look like, by learning about its early symptoms now.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

To put it simply, atrial fibrillation is an irregular, fast heart rate. But the condition can be so much more than a bit of abnormal heart behavior. 

When Afib occurs, it changes the heart’s normal rhythm. Typically, the heart contracts and relaxes to a set beat. With Afib, the heart’s upper chambers beat differently than the lower, causing blood flow issues.

And when one area of your heart is beating faster than the other, it can cause serious problems. One of the biggest concerns is the creation of blood clots, which can form in the heart’s upper chambers. Those clots can break off and cause issues throughout the body. Complications like a stroke, clogged arteries, or heart attack can occur.

Causes and Risk Factor

If you’re wondering whether you need to be concerned about Afib, it’s a good idea to know the condition’s causes and risk factors. Some people may have a higher chance of developing Afib than others.

While doctors can diagnose atrial fibrillation with ease, it’s often difficult to determine its cause.In some cases, doctors can’t figure out what’s causing Afib. And this is because Afib can be causes by a number of different factors or health issues.

The most common causes of atrial fibrillation include:

  • Age (being age 60 or older).
  • Genetics, or a family history of irregular heartbeat.
  • Heart disease.
  • Heart attack.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Being obese.
  • Diabetes.
  • Having an overactive thyroid.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Lung illnesses, like COPD or emphysema.
  • Sick sinus syndrome.

These common health issues and conditions can increase your odds of developing Afib. If you currently live with any of these conditions, you should talk with your doctor about your risk for Afib so you’re prepared.

The Early Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

In order to prevent complications, it’s important to catch atrial fibrillation as early as possible. The longer the condition goes on, untreated, the more serious your complications may become.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to detect Afib when it first begins. Many people don’t experience symptoms, and they only discover the condition during a routine doctor’s visit.

If you do experience symptoms, they can be confusing. Afib symptoms can mimic the symptoms of plenty of other health conditions. You might have any of the following:

  • Heart palpitations, which often feel like a racing heart, chest flip-flopping, or an irregular heartbeat.
  • Difficulty exercising.
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Feelings of weakness.

Your symptoms may not be predictable. In fact, they may not even occur frequently. Each case of atrial fibrillation is different, and symptoms can vary and change. For some people, symptoms are occasional – they come and go, or they last for just a few minutes or a few hours. For others, symptoms can be persistent and constant.

As soon as you experience any symptoms that might be a sign of atrial fibrillation, make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s important to undergo testing and get an official diagnosis.

What to Do If You Develop Atrial Fibrillation

If you are diagnosed with Afib, it’s important to discuss your next steps with your doctor. Based on your specific symptoms and overall health, your doctor will be able to recommend treatment options. Managing Afib can be a long process, and it may require a few different approaches.

There are a few different types of treatment that are used for Afib. Generally, the goal of any treatment is to reset your heart’s rhythm, control heart rate, and prevent complications. Specific treatment options include:

  • Cardioversion, or procedures to reset the heart’s rhythm.
  • Medication to prevent irregular rhythm or control heart rate.
  • Surgical procedures, which can include placing catheters into the heart or ablations to change heart rhythm.
  • Medications to prevent blood clots.

If you don’t treat Afib, you can wind up with deadly complications. Atrial fibrillation can lead to a stroke, causing blood to pool in the heart and create clots that block blood flow. It can also cause heart failure, as the condition weakens the heart over time.

Fortunately, before any complications arise, there are plenty of treatment options available. And some people may even be able to prevent Afib. Living a healthy lifestyle and focusing on your heart’s health can help prevent the condition altogether. Medical professionals recommend eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, and staying physically active as preventative measures.

It’s up to you to take charge of your health. If you’re concerned about Afib, make sure to speak with your doctor about your risk, your heart health, and what steps you can take.

sfam_photo / Shutterstock

Dec 23, 2019