Heart Out of Whack? The Secret Symptoms of Arterial Fibrillation and How to Manage Them

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Nevermind

The sound of your heartbeat is such a normal part of your life. You probably don’t even notice it—unless something’s wrong.

According to the CDC, an estimated 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the U.S have atrial fibrillation. Also known as AFib, this condition is the most common type of heart arrhythmia.

Concerned about your heartbeat? It helps to know the symptoms of atrial fibrillation. That way, you can keep an eye (or ear) out and prepare yourself.

Keep reading to learn the signs of AFib and how to manage your symptoms. 

What is AFib?

As a patient with AFib, blood flow from the upper to bottom chambers of your heart becomes irregular. As a result, your heart can’t pump blood efficiently throughout your body.

Usually, a heartbeat starts from one spot in the heart’s right atrium. This is the upper-right chamber of your heart.

However, patients with AFib have heartbeats that trigger from multiple spots.

As a result, the atria and ventricles beat at different paces. 

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of atrial fibrillation early on to avoid complications.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Some patients experience symptoms while others don’t. For some patients, the symptoms of atrial fibrillation occur intermittently. Here are a few symptoms to look out for:

  • A heart rate that’s higher than usual
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Palpitations 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Fatigue

If you don’t experience these symptoms of atrial fibrillation, however, it will go untreated. As a result, you could experience a stroke or heart failure before one of these symptoms. 

If you experience any of these symptoms, make a note and speak with your doctor.

They can help by making the diagnosis and creating a treatment plan. If you’re curious, this guide answers the question “how is AFib diagnosed?” in-depth. 

AFib Complications

To some people, an irregularity or heart flutter doesn’t sound so major. Unfortunately, the symptoms of atrial fibrillation can lead to a number of life-threatening health issues. 

For starters, AFib can cause you to develop blood clots.

This occurs when blood pools in the heart’s atria. Blood clots can form within these pools and cause blockages. A piece of the clot, called an embolus, can break off and travel throughout your body.

If an embolus restricts blood to the intestine, spleen, brain, lungs, or kidneys, it could become fatal.

An atrial fibrillation diagnosis can also put you at the risk of a stroke. Strokes occur when an embolus blocks blood flow to the brain.

The symptoms you’ll experience depend on where the embolus is located. In some cases, you’ll experience confusion, vision problems, speech issues, and movement difficult. You might also notice weakness on one side of the body. 

AFib can also cause you to experience heart failure.

When your heart beats irregularly, it causes the amount of blood that travels to vary with each heartbeat. In some cases, the ventricles might fail to fill up before your heart beats. When your body can’t pump enough blood through your veins, it builds up. 

This can cause blood to pool within the lungs or other parts of your body.

AFib can also leave you at long-term risk for developing dementia and cognitive issues.

Causes & Risk Factors

So what are the causes of atrial fibrillation? 

Certain lifestyle factors can potentially put you at risk of experiencing symptoms of atrial fibrillation. These include:

  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Heart disease (heart valve disease, a previous heart attack, coronary artery disease)
  • Age (your risk increases with time)
  • Genetics
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Sleep apnea
  • Surgery
  • Other chronic conditions (asthma, thyroid issues, diabetes, obesity)

Long-term exposure to certain stimulants could also put you at risk. These include medications, tobacco, and caffeine.

Stress that’s caused by an illness or surgery might increase your chances of experiencing AFib symptoms. 

You might have been born with a heart defect as well. A congenital heart defect could put you at risk. However, it’s not always the cause. 

Some people who have AFib don’t have a heart defect or damage. In these cases, the condition is called lone atrial fibrillation. 

Speak to your doctor about your family history and medical history to determine if you’re at risk.

Managing the Symptoms

To prevent your AFib symptoms, focus on preventing recurrent episodes.

Stimulating or exciting your heart can trigger an AFib episode. It’s important to know your triggers. For example, start monitoring your exercise and stress.

You should also keep track of how much alcohol or caffeine you consume.

Losing weight and improving your heart health can both limit your AFib symptoms.

You can also prevent symptoms of atrial fibrillation by:

  • Reducing your stress
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Ending a smoking habit
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting or cutting out caffeine and alcohol
  • Increasing your daily physical activity
  • Avoiding over-the-counter medications that trigger a rapid heartbeat

To control your AFib symptoms, you can either control your heart rate or bring your heart rhythm back to normal. Medications are available to help with both options.

For example, blood thinners and anticoagulants both prevent strokes. Meanwhile, beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers can control your heart rate.

You might also consider a surgical procedure to return your heart rate to normal. 

Make sure to speak with your doctor. They’ll review your symptoms and medical history to determine which type of surgery is best for you.

Other methods for managing your symptoms of atrial fibrillation include a radiofrequency ablation or a pacemaker. The latter will send electrical impulses into your heart muscle. This can help generate a normal heart rate to limit your symptoms. 

The Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation and How to Manage Them

Don’t leave yourself at risk. Now that you know the causes and signs of AFib, you can keep an eye out. If you experience any symptoms of atrial fibrillation, speak to your doctor.

They’ll help you determine the best plan moving forward.

Head over to the Health section of our blog for more good stuff and helpful guides.