Quick heartbeat? Could be nerves, could be AFib

Friday, February 12, 2016

PHILADELPHIA -- First date? Job interview? Tough workout? In situations like these, it's not uncommon to experience a quickened heartbeat. But if your heart is constantly marching to the beat of its own drum, and you're experiencing the 'fluttering' feeling described by more than 2 million other Americans, it could be atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib, is typically referred to as a quivering, irregular, or fluttering heartbeat. This sensation is caused by an internal process, wherein the two upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, experience misdirected electrical signals that cause them to beat quickly and out of sync.

Still, many people affected by AFib may not realize they have it.

Could It Be AFib?

Though AFib's telltale symptom is its fluttering heartbeat, it isn't the only one. Keep an eye out for these warning signs, too:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue, particularly during exercise
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure

While most people with AFib will experience symptoms, others may not realize they have the condition until they visit their cardiologist or primary care physician for a physical exam. For this reason, it's important to be diligent about familiarizing yourself with these symptoms and recognizing them so you can seek prompt medical attention.

And although these symptoms can happen to anyone, there are certain groups that are more at risk for the condition than others. Adults over age 60, people with a family history of AFib, people who are heavy drinkers, or people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or who are obese are all at an increased risk for AFib. Talk to your physician about how to take control of your risk factors.

I Have AFib...What Can I Do?

A diagnosis of AFib is not life-threatening, but it often means an increased risk for serious health issues. Research from the American Heart Association has found that AFib is a risk factor that leads to one in five strokes and, left untreated, it can also lead to heart failure.

Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those living with AFib. Treatment for AFib typically depends upon factors like how long you have had AFib, the severity of your symptoms, the cause of your AFib, and your overall heart health. Once these factors are evaluated, you and your physician can determine what surgical or non-surgical treatment option is right for you. These treatments are focused on controlling heart rate and rhythm, but patients may also need blood thinners to help control their stroke risk.

In addition to treatment options, daily management of AFib is important. Controlling your risk factors for heart disease and stroke-like maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and managing other chronic conditions-is essential to managing your AFib.

For more information on the prevention and treatment of atrial fibrillation and other cardiovascular conditions, visit the Main Line Health website.