What You Need to Know About Atrial Fibrillation

If you have an irregular heartbeat, you’d feel it, right? Not always, and especially not if you have atrial fibrillation, also called AFib. Learning about AFib is the key to preventing the problem or catching it at an early stage, before you end up in the hospital with a stroke.

Dr. Laura Fernandes and the team at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute focus on teaching patients about their health and participating in preventive care that protects their hearts. That’s why we devoted this article to the things you need to know about atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation causes strokes

When you have Afib, the heart’s two upper chambers beat chaotically and rapidly. This is a big problem because you need regular, strong muscle contractions to push blood through all four chambers of the heart.

As the fluttering upper chambers slow down the flow, blood pools in one of the lower chambers and thickens. That’s when blood clots develop.

If a blood clot leaves your heart, it can block an artery in your brain. As a result, nearly 35% of all people with AFib end up having strokes.

Prevention is possible

Not everyone will be able to prevent AFib, but for most people, AFib begins when a health condition damages their heart and disrupts its electrical system. These conditions, called risk factors, are mostly preventable by changing certain aspects of your lifestyle. 

The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of developing AFib. Here’s a list of the top risk factors:

This next list gives you an idea of the lifestyle changes you can make to prevent the conditions that lead to AFib:

If you already have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, it’s essential to keep these diseases under control. We can help you create a lifestyle plan and prescribe medications to promote your ongoing health and prevent AFib.

Symptoms are scarce

If AFib causes symptoms, you have palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath. But most people don’t have symptoms, so they never have a clue they have AFib. 

Sometimes they have symptoms they don’t associate with a heart problem, like generally feeling tired. So how can you protect yourself if symptoms don’t tip you off to a problem? The answer is screening.

Screening protects your life

Screening can prevent AFib, or if you already have the arrhythmia, it will help you avoid progressive heart damage and complications like a stroke or heart failure.

When we screen for AFib, we review your medical history, evaluate your risk factors, and perform a physical exam. Then we do an in-office electrocardiogram (ECG). 

An ECG is often all we need to diagnose AFib, but if we have any questions or concerns, we may do additional diagnostic testing.

After collecting your information and learning about the current health of your heart, we create a plan to lower your risks and treat existing problems.

If you have AFib, we can stabilize and control your heart rhythm with medication, lifestyle changes, and minimally invasive procedures designed to stop or regulate abnormal electrical signals.

To learn more about AFib or to talk with us about whether you should consider screening, call Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute or request an appointment online.

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