Atrial fibrillation (Afib or AF) is an irregular heartbeat that causes symptoms that can be frightening. You may experience chest pain or pressure, or a feeling that your heart is racing or fluttering. Some people with Afib say they feel dizzy and weak. How you feel when your Afib “acts up” is information to share with your medical team. Why? For one thing, managing Afib is a very important aspect of reducing the risk for stroke. This is because Afib is a significant risk factor for stroke, a condition that can lead to disability or even death. Second, managing your Afib can improve your quality of life and your family’s. Fortunately, there are effective treatments that you and your healthcare team can explore to see which one is right for you. They include:
Your medical team may also recommend anticoagulant medications or a minimally invasive procedure called left atrial appendage closure (LAAC). While anticoagulant medications and LAAC do not address the symptoms of Afib, they do lower the risk of blood clots that can cause stroke.
When Afib Strikes
When an Afib episode occurs, it is important to seek medical help without delay, particularly if the symptoms are worse than you have felt before or different in any way. For example, if your Afib previously felt like a fluttering in your chest, and your discomfort level has increased so that you are experiencing pain or pressure, this could be a warning sign of a heart attack.
In a heart attack, seconds count! When you call 9-1-1, you are summoning first-responders who can perform simple tests to see if you have having a heart attack and, if you are, they can activate the hospital team to get ready to treat you as soon as you arrive at the hospital.
If it turns out you are not having a heart attack, that’s okay. It is better to be sure because the longer a heart attack goes untreated, the more damage the heart muscle will suffer. Plus, getting checked will allow your medical team to re-evaluate your condition and adjust your treatment plan.
Remember and be able to describe your symptoms: What symptoms did you feel? Were there any “warning signs” before the symptoms began? Did the symptoms come on all at once, or did they get worse? Were they constant, or did they come and go? Any information you can provide to the medical team will helping them identify the problem and know how to treat it.
Be forthcoming: Some people are hesitant to tell their medical team if their symptoms occurred when they were exercising, had been drinking or using drugs, or were having sex. It is very important that you explain fully what was happening at the time your Afib symptoms flared up. Open communication with your doctor is one of the most effective tools you have for treating atrial fibrillation.
You can learn more about the risk factors for Afib, how it is diagnosed and how it can be treated, when you visit the SecondsCount Atrial Fibrillation Center.