You may have heard of a heart condition by the name of Atrial Fibrillation, or simply Afib, as it has become more common of late. Afib is a medical condition where the atria, the upper chambers of the heart, contract abnormally and irregularly. These rapid heartbeats are referred to as arrhythmia. Studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have revealed that between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the U.S. suffer from Afib.
The condition has a higher prevalence among people over the age of 65. 9% of Americans above 65 have this condition while those below make up 2% of the population. Since the number of cases increases with age and women have a higher life expectancy than men, men suffer from Afib more than women.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
According to Ramin Manshadi, a medical doctor and an associate professor of clinical cardiology at the University of California, irregular heartbeats have the potential of going unnoticed. In essence, the condition is associated with symptoms such as:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Afib also increases the risk of stroke fivefold. Afib can indeed cause clots to form in the heart’s chamber. If such a clot breaks free and travels to the brain, the result will most likely be a stroke. Medical experts say a person who has suffered a stroke due to atrial fibrillation stands at a risk of suffering even a more devastating occurrence later on. Worse still, Afib may lead to a heart attack.
What is Afib Caused By?
The condition itself is caused by abnormalities or damage to the structure of the heart. So some possible direct causes include:
- Previous heart surgery
- Lung diseases
- Viral infections
- Stress resulting from pneumonia, surgery or other illnesses
- High blood pressure
- Heart attacks
- Coronary artery disease
- Abnormal heart valves
- Heart defects you’re born with (congenital)
- An overactive thyroid gland
- Exposure to stimulants
- Sick sinus syndrome
Most importantly, note that some people without any heart defect whatsoever can still be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.
Family History and Afib
According to recent research, there is a direct link between atrial fibrillation and family history. According to studies, people whose close family members such as parents or siblings who have Afib are 40% more likely to suffer from the same complication than those whose families have no such history.
Explaining why the condition tends to show up in some families and not others, Dr. Razavi says that the reasons vary. However, genetic mutations account for 10-15% of all cases. In a majority of these, the condition results from a combination of high blood pressure, obesity, and unhealthy dietary habits, including consumption of foods high in sodium and fat, both of which increase the risk of hypertension or high blood pressure.
How Can I Prevent Atrial Fibrillation?
For the most part, the surest way of preventing this condition is by curbing common heart disease risk factors. Studies have shown that doing so reduces the chances of Afib by 50%. First and foremost, understand your atrial fibrillation risk factors and take measures to contain those that are within your control. If you do this, you can diminish the possibility of suffering from the disease despite any family history.
Here are five steps you can take to keep your heart beating strong:
- Firstly, ensure that your blood pressure does not exceed the normal range. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of atrial fibrillation in the U.S. To monitor your blood pressure, consult a physician for a checkup. Of course, if you find out yours is above normal (below 120/80 mmHg), your doctor will advise you on dietary measures to take including the reduction in salt and fat consumption. In addition, you may also have to start taking a blood pressure medication.
- Drink Responsibly. Excessive drinking leads to dehydration, increases blood pressure, causes an increase in adrenaline, and damages the heart muscles. Generally speaking, doctors recommend a maximum of two beers a day if you are to keep atrial fibrillation away.
- Equally important, watch your weight. Excessive weight increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. In fact, all of these are directly related to atrial fibrillation. You can avoid obesity by exercising regularly and healthy eating.
- Avoid Smoking. Nicotine, a stimulant, has the potential of triggering atrial fibrillation. Moreover, lung diseases linked to smoking can cause high blood pressure, leading to Afib.
- Seek medical advice. If any of your family members has had atrial fibrillation, you should consult a doctor. Be sure to discuss all medical conditions including sleep apnea, thyroid disease, and stress as they can all lead to irregular heartbeats. Do not wait for symptoms to arise in the first place. 90% of atrial fibrillation cases do not lead to any symptoms. At 30, you should go for an electrocardiogram to rule out the possibility of hereditary Afib if any of your family members has had the disease.
In conclusion, if you do develop Afib, remember not to be scared because there are treatments for Atrial fibrillation. Instead, what you need to do is seek medical attention if you think you’re experiencing any symptoms. Lastly, remember to keep all conditions that could lead to the disease under control and visit a medical expert for a checkup if your family has a history of the disease.
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