You've been diagnosed with AFib: Now what?

Learn how to live safely with AFib and lower your risk for other serious health problems like stroke.

[3 MIN READ]

If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), you probably have a long list of questions swirling around your head. While this diagnosis can increase risk for serious health problems, it doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to a sedentary life at home.

By following treatment from your doctor and reducing certain risk factors, you may be able to live a full and active life with AFib. Read on to learn more about how AFib can affect your health and daily life and what you can do to keep it under control. 

How does AFib affect my overall health?

AFib is an irregular heartbeat (arrythmia) that happens when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) don’t contract properly. This is caused by a problem with the electrical signals in the body that keep the heart pumping normally.

Stroke is the greatest health risk for someone with AFib — in fact, someone with AFib is five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without it. 

If the atria don’t work correctly, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood through the body, which means the blood can stay stagnant and pool inside one of the heart chambers. When blood pools, clots can form. Eventually, that clot may be pumped out of the heart toward the brain where it can block an artery and cause a stroke.

Stroke is the greatest health risk for someone with AFib — in fact, someone with AFib is five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without it. Fortunately, there are many AFib treatments available today that can lower your risk for stroke and help you maintain a normal life.

How to keep AFib in check

Once you’re on a treatment plan for AFib, you should be able to go about your daily life as normal. As long as you’re cleared by your doctor, you can continue to drive, exercise and go to work.

Living with AFib means undergoing treatment to help keep your heart rhythm normal and reduce your risk for stroke. It also means avoiding certain triggers that may cause episodes of AFib.

Medicines for AFib

Depending on your condition, your doctor may prescribe different medicines for your AFib, including:

  • Blood thinners (anticoagulants)—These medicines will help reduce the risk for blood clots, which can cause a stroke.
  • Heart rhythm control medicines—These medicines help keep your heartbeat rhythm normal.
  • Heart rate control medicines—These medicines control the electrical signals that power your heart, which can help lower your heart rate.

It’s important to always take your medicines exactly as prescribed unless your doctor tells you to stop or change your treatment.

Other treatments for AFib

If medicines alone don’t help control your irregular heartbeat, your doctor may recommend a procedure to treat the AFib. These treatments may include:

  • Electrical cardioversion—During this procedure, your doctor will give you an electrical shock using patches or paddles on your chest (you will be under mild anesthesia). This shock may be able to return your heart to a normal rhythm.
  • Ablation—During this treatment, your doctor inserts a small tube (catheter) through a blood vessel and up into your heart. Then, the doctor sends extreme heat or cold to the end of the catheter, which destroys tissue around the heart that may be sending abnormal electrical signals. Once these abnormal signals stop, your heart may go back to its normal rhythm.
  • Pacemaker—In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to place a small device (pacemaker) on your heart that helps control its rhythm.

Your doctor can assess if you have the need for any surgical procedure based on your health and individual needs.

Avoiding AFib triggers

In some cases, you may be able to prevent an episode of AFib by avoiding certain triggers that can cause irregular heartbeats. Some common triggers include:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Caffeine, especially energy drinks
  • Poor sleep or sleep apnea
  • Too much alcohol

Can my AFib be cured?

AFib is not curable, but by following your treatment plan, you will be able to lower your risk for stroke caused by AFib. With treatment, a heart-healthy lifestyle and regular check-ups with your doctor, you can live a log and full life with AFib.

Find a doctor

For more information about AFib treatment, or how to lower your risk, talk with your doctor. You can find a Providence doctor using our provider directory.

Visit our provider directory to find a primary care doctor or specialist

You’ve been diagnosed with #AFib — now what? Learn the important steps you can take to maintain your #health with AFib. @psjh 

Resources

Atrial fibrillation: What makes the heart skip a beat?

Should I take aspirin to prevent heart disease?

Low-impact exercises to stay fit as you age

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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