AFib Symptoms, Treatment, and Management

EKG

Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat, flutter, speed up or slow down? Of course you have.   It may have happened before an interview or important meeting, while climbing a flight of stairs, or after a weekend in Vegas.

Think of the situation you are in when you experienced the symptoms. Common causes for these palpitations include:

  • Stress or strong emotions
  • Intense or endurance exercise
  • Certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs
  • Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine
  • The “other” kind of drugs.

Palpitations are harmless for most people. For others, they may be the sign of an electrical problem with the heart called arrhythmia.  According to the Heart Rhythm Society, atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common arrhythmia. In fact, it affects more than 2.5 million American adults.

Although common, AFib can also be very serious.   People who have AFib are 5 times more likely to have a stroke than those who don’t have the condition. So how do you know the difference between palpitations and AFib?

Know Your AFib Risk Factors

According WebMD, you could be at risk of AFib if you are over 60 or you have one of the following conditions:

  • Heart disease due to high blood pressure
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart defect from birth (congenital heart defect)
  • Long-term lung disease (such as COPD)
  • Heart failure
  • Past heart surgery
  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Sleep apnea.

AFib Symptoms

The primary symptoms of AFib are the palpitations mentioned above.  In addition to racing or irregular heartbeat you may feel:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

AFib Treatments

Your doctor will typically recommend medications such as beta-blockers (to slow down your heart).  You might also be put on blood thinners to reduce the chance of clotting and stroke. If you are in AFib and medication is not working, you may need a procedure such as an electrical cardioversion.

My Shocking Experience

I had the pleasure of this procedure late last year. I went into AFib one night while brushing my teeth. My doctor doubled my beta-blocker and put me on a blood thinner for a couple of days to try and get me back in rhythm.

When this didn’t work, it was on to a cardioversion. My procedure was done at the hospital. After a quick dose of propofol to knock me out, the doctor placed an adhesive pad connected to some wires on my chest. Next, an electrical current was sent through the wires to shock my heart back into rhythm. Bingo – I was all fixed.

Managing AFB

Managing AFib is similar to the steps necessary to manage any underlying heart conditions:

  • Quit smoking
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Avoid cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine
  • Stop all those illegal drugs (seriously, you should have outgrown this by now)
  • Manage your stress
  • Exercise.

In other words, be a HeartGeek!

Photo credit: Dinh Linh / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Symptoms of a Heart Attack, Silence Can Be Deadly

man clutching heart
We have all seen the Hollywood heart attack. It starts with a middle-aged man clutching his chest and breaking into a sweat before gasping for air and dropping to the ground. This makes good film, but the actual symptoms usually come on much more gradually – or not at all!

Know Your Risk Profile

Before diving deeper into the actual symptoms of a heart attack, it’s important to understand your cardiac risk profile. Having this understanding will help you put the symptoms into context. Risk factors include:

  1. Hereditary
  2. Smoking
  3. High Cholesterol
  4. High Blood Pressure
  5. Inactivity
  6. Obesity

The first risk factor is obviously out of your control. Your risk of a heart attack increases if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years of age, or if your mother or a sister was diagnosed before 65 years of age.

If heart disease is in your genes, managing the rest of the risk factors becomes even more critical. Doing so is not complicated, but it is hard; quit smoking, eat healthy, and exercise. The hardest part is getting started.  Set realistic goals, and start making changes.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Hopefully you are working to manage your risk profile. But let’s say you experience some pressure in your chest or pain in your arm. What should you do? Words could not provide a better explanation than the video below. Be warned that parts of it may be considered a little graphic.

Great stuff, but I could have done without the vomit.  Also, if in the U.S., be sure to dial 911.

The Silent Heart Attack

There is one other type of heart attack that you need to be aware of – the silent heart attack. Even the name is scary. As many as 25% of all heart attacks fall into this category. A silent heart attack happens when no symptoms are felt or they are misinterpreted.

This is what happened to me the day I had a heart attack and cardiac arrest. Reading a book to my daughter one minute, no pulse the next. Afterwards, my wife said I had been complaining of fatigue for a few days. Knowing my cardiac risk profile (heredity, smoker, poor diet) I should have talked to my doctor.

If you have a high cardiac risk profile, talk to your doctor about silent heart attacks.  Most importantly, don’t ignore any symptoms of chest pain, “heartburn”, shortness of breath, or fatigue.  Because silent heart attacks happen with no warning, the need for immediate response is critical to your survival.