Generally, when someone says their heart "skipped a beat," they mean they were excited or possibly scared for a moment. But, for millions of people, an irregular heart rhythm isn't just a figure of speech; it's a real medical condition and one that could prove dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
When it comes arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation (AFib), is by far the most common form, affecting millions of Americans. The condition occurs when there are erratic electrical signals between the upper chambers of the heart, or atria. These signals confuse the heart's natural rhythm, causing the atria to squeeze too quickly. As a result, the heart fibrillates, or quivers, and can ultimately lead to some very serious and even life-threatening complications. AFib patients have a risk of death from cardiovascular complications that is double that of the general population and a stroke risk that is five times higher.
What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?
AFib can affect anyone, but there are certain risk factors that can place patients at an increased risk. If you have any of the following, your odds of developing the condition may be higher than normal:
- Age - The risk of AFib increases as we get older. It is most common in those over the age of 60.
- Existing Heart Disease - Having a heart that is already weakened due to existing heart disease can increase your odds of developing AFib. It is also the most commonly reported complication following heart surgery.
- Family History - If a close family member suffered from AFib, there is a higher than average chance that you will as well.
- Chronic Health Conditions - There are several chronic health conditions that can impact heart health and potentially contribute to the development of AFib. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, and some thyroid conditions.
Can AFib be Prevented?
If you are at risk for AFib, you may be wondering what can be done to keep it at bay. While you may not be able to affect some risk factors such as age or family history, there are others that you can certainly reduce through a healthy lifestyle. In short, if it's bad for your heart, it may contribute to AFib. This means that you can positively influence your risk by making changes such as:
- Eating a heart healthy diet that is low in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated and trans fats
- Getting physically active and maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking and avoiding excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine
- Managing chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or cholesterol and taking all medications as prescribed
Atrial fibrillation is a serious heart condition that patients often overlook. If you are at risk for AFib or have been diagnosed, carefully monitoring and managing your heart health is of critical importance. To learn more about ways to safeguard your cardiovascular health, contact Cardiovascular Institute of the South, and schedule an appointment with one of our highly-skilled physicians in your area.