If you are over 40, you may have heard someone talking about atrial fibrillation. So, what is atrial fibrillation? Specific cells in your heart create electrical signals that cause your heart to relax and contract at a regular rhythm. When these electrical impulses cause the heart to beat irregularly, it’s called an arrhythmia. The most common kind of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation or AFib. But what exactly is atrial fibrillation, anyway? Well, during AFib, the heart’s upper chambers contract too fast and irregularly. When this happens, your heart doesn’t pump blood efficiently into the heart’s lower chambers. Essentially, with AFib, the parts of the heart beat out of sync. Atrial fibrillation is a serious medical condition that your doctor or cardiologist should diagnose and treat. However, you can take steps to reduce your risk factors and prevent AFib.
Most people experience symptoms before they receive a diagnosis and treatment for atrial fibrillation. Some people with AFib have no symptoms at all, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. The most common symptoms of AFib are:
- Fatigue when exercising
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Fainting spells
- Shortness of breath and dizziness
- Chest pain or pressure
Is AFib Dangerous?
Simply put, yes. Failing to treat atrial fibrillation can lead to serious health complications or medical emergencies, such as:
- Heart attacks
- Chronic fatigue
- Poor circulation
- Inconsistent blood supply
If you suffer from AFib, you are five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without AFib. Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of disability.
Atrial Fibrillation Cause and Risk Factors
The primary cause of AFib is the chaotic electrical signals sent from your heart’s natural pacemaker. These signals control the heart rate. Many medical conditions and risk factors can contribute to AFib, including:
- Abnormalities or defects in the heart chambers or valves
- Advanced age
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attacks
- Smoking or drug use
- High blood pressure
- Lung disease
- Heart surgery
To reduce your risk of complications associated with AFib, eat a healthy diet that’s low in salt, saturated fats, and trans fats. Get plenty of exercise, and quit smoking. Because hypothyroidism can sometimes cause AFib, you should also have your thyroid levels tested. By reducing your risk factors, you may be able to prevent AFib. Additionally, making healthy lifestyle changes also reduces AFib’s complications and their impact on your health.