AFib Symptoms, Treatment, and Management


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