Living With Atrial Fibrillation

By: Alere Staff
Publication Date: Mon, 09/01/2014

Living With Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, also referred to as afib, is a very common heart rhythm problem affecting over 2 million people in the US.1 The incidence increases with age. Approximately 4% of people over age 65 and 11% of people over age 80 have afib.1 Afib is an electrical disturbance in the top chambers of the heart also known as the atria. It causes chaotic and irregular beats because the atria quiver instead of pumping blood effectively.1 The condition, while not life threatening, can increase the risk of having a stroke for some patients. Symptoms of afib include palpitations or a “fluttering” sensation in the chest, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. However, some patients may not experience any symptoms at all.1

Treating Atrial Fibrillation

The treatment for afib centers on three main goals: reducing the risk of stroke by preventing blood clots using anticoagulant medications, heart rate control and, if possible, correction of the rhythm.2  If taking warfarin for anticoagulation, frequent monitoring (by blood test) is needed to ensure your INR level is in therapeutic range. Therapeutic range is an INR level where you are least likely to form a clot that can cause a stroke. It is very important to take all prescribed medications regularly and as directed. Ask your doctor if you would qualify to have an INR meter to perform your INR blood tests at home.

Health conditions that can contribute to episodes of afib include hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid), hypertension, sleep apnea, and chronic lung disease.3 Be sure to see your doctor to be screened and treated if you develop these conditions. 

Preventing the Triggers of Atrial Fibrillation

It is always important to understand your condition and to be an active participant in your healthcare. You can help prevent episodes of afib by making lifestyle adjustments.1 Avoid known triggers of afib such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Consult with your doctor before using over the counter medications such as cold remedies and nasal sprays as well as herbal remedies. Many of these products contain substances that can aggravate or trigger afib.1 These preparations can also interact with warfarin and can cause your INR to be out of range. Take steps to reduce stress which can also contribute to episodes of afib. Consult your doctor about an activity and exercise plan and be sure to get plenty of rest.

References:

1.    Shea, J.B; Sears,S. (2008).  A Patient’s Guide to Living with Atrial Fibrillation. Circulation, 117:e340-e343.

2.    American College of Cardiology Foundation and American Heart Association. (2006) ACCF/AHA Pocket Guideline: Management of Patients with Atrial Fibrillation.  Circulation, 114:e257–e354.

3.    Ganz,L. (2014). Patient information: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics).  http://www.uptodate.com/contents/atrial-fibrillation-beyond-the-basics?source=search_result&search=living+with+atrial+fibrillation&selectedTitle=7~150