A steady heartbeat drives good health. But sometimes, that steady beat can get thrown off rhythm. That's what happens with atrial fibrillation (AFib).
“Certain cells in the heart create electrical signals,” says Sheri Barnett, APRN, a nurse practitioner with Prairie Cardiovascular in Effingham. “These signals then cause the heart to contract and pump blood. But with AFib, the heart's two upper chambers—the atria—don't beat like they should. Instead, they beat irregularly and way too fast, disrupting the normal flow of blood from the atria to the lower chambers of the heart – the ventricles.”
AFib is a serious condition. But people who have it can lead normal, healthy lives. Here are five things you should know.
- AFib doesn't always have symptoms. But when it does, symptoms can vary. Some people have a racing or fluttering heart or heart palpitations. Others experience shortness of breath or anxiety. Lightheadedness, dizziness and fainting can all happen too. Whether you have symptoms or not, you'll need an exam to get a diagnosis. Your doctor might also order tests like an EKG just to be sure.
- Other problems can arise from AFib. You can live with AFib, but it can lead to issues like heart failure and chronic fatigue. Additional heart rhythm problems and an inconsistent blood supply can become problems as well, so it is important to speak with your doctor about any issues you are experiencing.
- If you have AFib, your risk of stroke is five times higher than someone without it. AFib can cause blood to pool inside the left atrium of the heart, and clots can form in this pooled blood. When a clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain and block an artery, causing a stroke. The blockage prevents the tissue downstream from getting oxygen, and without oxygen, tissue dies. That is why it is important to stay on top of your condition with a cardiologist.
- You might be able to predict an AFib episode. “Some people can feel when they're in AFib,” says Barnett. “But even if you can't, you can still watch for triggers. Common triggers include caffeine, stress and poor sleep. Some people with AFib find that exercise that increases their heart rate beyond a certain point can trigger an episode too. Exercise can help many folks with AFib, so it's important to pay attention and learn what triggers your AFib.”
- Not everyone who has AFib needs medical treatment. It's a worrisome condition, but AFib doesn't always call for medication or other therapies. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes. Sometimes, heart rhythm can return to normal on its own. Even if you and your doctor decide treatment isn't needed, you should work together to monitor your heart. Repeat episodes can lead to persistent or permanent AFib.
If you are concerned about your heart health, Prairie Cardiovascular has physicians and providers in Effingham to partner with you. To learn more about the doctors of Prairie in Effingham, call 888-4PRAIRIE or visit here.