Oftentimes, seeking to improve your health starts at your core – your heart. One common condition to be aware of is atrial fibrillation (AFib), which is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
Currently impacting up to 6.1 million people in the US alone, AFib is projected to double by 2030, according to the American Heart Association. One in three individuals is at risk for developing AFib over the course of his or her lifetime, and the likelihood of developing the condition increases by almost 40 percent after the age of 55.
The average person living with AFib has a five-fold increase of experiencing a stroke than someone with a regular heartbeat. However, proper diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the chances of associated heart health complications, including stroke.
The first step toward managing AFib and preventing serious health complications is gaining knowledge about the condition. The experts at the American Heart Association are working to elevate awareness with these facts:
While in some cases the cause is unknown, AFib can be the result of damage to the heart’s electrical system from other conditions such as longstanding, uncontrolled high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and heart disease. For example, smokers are 20 percent more likely to develop AFib than nonsmokers.
Symptoms and signs
A person living with AFib may have symptoms like a fluttering heartbeat, but he or she may not have symptoms at all. Nearly 80 percent of people who report having AFib note they did not experience symptoms, which can lead to the condition being overlooked or confused with other conditions, such as anxiety.
“Atrial fibrillation can be challenging to diagnose,” said Dr. Georgeanne Freeman, a board-certified family medicine doctor and American Heart Association volunteer expert. “If you are feeling out of the ordinary, whether it’s a racing pulse or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath and fatigue, it’s time to speak with your doctor to learn your risk for AFib and lower your chance for stroke.”
Other common symptoms include dizziness, weakness, faintness or confusion; fatigue when exercising; sweating and chest pain or pressure.
Anyone, at any age, can develop AFib. People over age 50, those with high blood pressure or other forms of heart disease and those with a family history of the condition are at highest risk and should discuss their medical history with their doctors.
People of African, Asian or Hispanic ancestry are typically less likely to suffer from AFib. However, research suggests that those with African or Hispanic ancestry living with AFib have a higher risk of death when the condition is combined with another factor such as heart failure or high blood pressure.
While some people living with AFib are unaware of the condition due to not experiencing symptoms, it causes the heart to beat erratically, stops blood from moving through the heart efficiently and may result in pooling or clotting. The clot may block blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke. Risk factors such as age, high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes or medical history contribute to individuals’ five-fold risk of stroke.
Although most primary care providers claim to have general knowledge of AFib, there are still challenges in their abilities to diagnose it. The treatment goals start with a proper diagnosis through an in-depth examination performed by a medical professional, health care provider or cardiologist. The exam usually includes questions about the individual’s medical history and often a test such as an EKG or ECG to determine heart rate, rhythm and other information. If you have AFib, understand your options for medications and discuss with your doctor. Anyone on anticoagulants should carry information and be able to alert medical professionals in an emergency that he or she is on blood thinners.
To learn more and to access AFib tools and resources, visit heart.org/AFib.