Heart and Vascular Health Atrial Fibrillation: What You Need to Know By Heart and Vascular Institute, February 5, 2015 Feel your heartbeat. Is it fast? This is normal if you’ve been exercising, or if you’re worried or scared. But sometimes a fast heartbeat can be a sign of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a common condition that is important to treat. If left untreated, this heart condition can lead to a stroke. Fortunately, AFib is highly treatable, and your doctor can advise you on how to manage your condition and help you to lead an otherwise normal, healthy life. So, what should you know about AFib? Find out if you’re at risk or if the warning signs and symptoms apply to you. What Is Atrial fibrillation (AFib)? Your heart has an electrical system that keeps the top chambers (the atria) beating in time with the bottom chambers (the ventricles). When the electrical signals are normal, you have a normal, steady heartbeat. AFib happens when the electrical system sends out uneven signals that make the atria quiver, or fibrillate, instead of beating normally. This throws off the heart’s rhythm and can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat. Other symptoms can include: Fluttering in the chest, also called palpitations Chest discomfort Dizziness or light-headedness Shortness of breath Weakness Fatigue, or feeling very tired Who gets AFib? Millions of people in the United States have AFib, and common risk factors include: Age. It is very common in people 60 and older, and the older you get, the more you are at risk. Lifestyle. What you eat, how active you are, if you smoke, if you drink heavily, how you sleep, and how you manage stress all play a part. Health conditions. High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other heart problems can raise your risk. Is AFib Dangerous? If you have symptoms of AFib, talk to your doctor right away. While it’s unusual for AFib to be life-threatening on its own, it can lead to very serious, even deadly, conditions like stroke. People with AFib have a higher risk of stroke because their hearts don’t pump blood properly. This can make blood pool or clot, and if a clot moves from your heart to your brain, a stroke can happen. People with AFib are also more likely to develop other heart problems, or obesity. It’s important to understand your risks and to talk with your doctor about how to lower them. How Is AFib Treated? Your doctor will suggest a treatment plan that fits your needs. This may include: Changes to your lifestyle. A heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, lowering your alcohol intake, and finding ways to handle stress are important. Medicines. Your doctor might have you take medicines that lower your risk of blood clots, that help your heart beat slower, or that get your heart back to a normal rhythm. Devices. Some people need pacemakers and defibrillators, which are small devices that are placed inside your body and help control your heart beat. Surgery or other medical procedures. There are surgeries and other medical procedures that can treat AFib, and your doctor will let you know if one is right for you. Remember, if you think you have AFib, it’s important to talk to your doctor right away. The sooner you’re diagnosed, the sooner you can get treatment and begin lowering your risk of stroke. Visit the UPMC Center for Atrial Fibrillation online or call 1-844-HVI-AFIB (484-2342) to schedule an appointment or learn more.