6 Tips for Living with Atrial Fibrillation

Paari Dominic, MD
Cardiac Electrophysiologist

If you’ve been diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation (typically referred to as AFib or AF), you’re not alone. According to the American Heart Association, at least 2.7 million Americans have been diagnosed and are living with AFib.

AFib is the most common type of heart arrhythmia—irregular and often rapid heartbeat. It happens when the electrical signals helping the heart function get chaotic, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or erratically. AFib can feel like fluttering in your chest, or like your heart is racing or skipping beats.

Life with AFib has its challenges and can impact your relationships, stamina and emotional health. By making a few simple lifestyle changes, you can help protect your heart and better manage your condition.

1. Talk with your doctor about how Afib is affecting your life

Atrial fibrillation can have a range of presentations and the treatment options can be tailored to address these symptoms. You may feel tired, short of breath, dizzy and lightheaded. Sometimes the symptoms of fatigue and tiredness can set in so gradually that you may not even recognize it. It’s important that you critically evaluate your symptoms and how it affects the quality of your life, and discuss this with your doctor, so they may be better able to address these symptoms.

2. Understand your risk for stroke

Atrial Fibrillation can lead to blood clots and increase your risk for stroke. In fact, the risk of stroke in AFib patients is 5 times greater than a person without the heart disease. It’s important to know the warning signs of stroke (numbness or weakness of face or limbs, difficulty in speaking or understanding, trouble walking, imbalance or trouble seeing) and to call 911 immediately if you notice these symptoms.

3. Stay on schedule with your prescriptions

Often times, medication is the most helpful form of treatment for Atrial Fibrillation, especially in preventing stroke. If you have been prescribed heart medications, taking and tracking these meds is one of the best things you can do for your health. These prescriptions may be helpful with preventing and treating blood clots or controlling your heart rate and rhythm and preventing further deterioration in your heart function.

4. Eat a healthy diet

Fueling your body with the types of food that are going to help you control your condition and even prevent symptoms and complications is very important. You should discuss a healthy eating plan with your physician. It’s encouraged that people living with AFib should avoid foods high in fat and salt, and consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation. So, that may mean less energy drinks and Starbucks runs. Sodas, coffee, tea and energy drinks can make your heart race, and large amount of alcohol can be a trigger for AFib.

5. Find time to fit in exercise

Yes, you can still exercise when you have AFib. Start slowly by doing some light exercise, such as walking, for 5-10 minutes a day. Build up your routine gradually and monitor your pulse after you’ve cooled down. Staying active can help you improve your sleep, strengthen your heart, and control your weight. Regular exercise improves your mood and sense of wellbeing and may help reduce your risk of other heart disease.

6. Let go of the stress

Stress can be another trigger of AFib, so if you feel anxious try relaxing with some yoga and meditation, or deep breathing. Excessive anxiety can increase your heart rate so it’s important to find ways to lower your stress levels.

AFib is a life-long condition that changes overtime but there are things you can do to help manage your condition. In addition, there may be some invasive treatment options for you to prolong your life and reduce hospitalizations from AFib. For additional resources and other heart-related tips, visit www.heart.org or call 318-626-0000 to speak with someone at the Ochsner LSU Health Heart & Vascular Institute.