What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Listen to what your heartbeat is telling you

A Veteran monitoring their heartbeat via a health monitorAtrial fibrillation, or 'AFib,' is a common electrical abnormality of the heart that affects millions of people and leads to an irregular and often faster heartbeat. If you have AFib, the top chambers of the heart don't push blood out regularly, which can cause the blood to stay in the heart. When blood doesn't move consistently, it can increase your risk for stroke and other heart-related problems.

Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can help make your heart stronger and lower your chances for other heart-related problems that AFib can cause.

What puts you at risk?

Managing your stress is always a good thing, but it's not the only solution for AFib. Any person, ranging from children to adults, can develop it. These problems can affect both women and men for different reasons.

You may be at higher risk for AFib as you age. Other factors may also increase your risk:

  • High blood pressure

  • Underlying heart disease

  • Binge drinking alcohol (having 5 drinks in 2 hours for men, or 4 drinks for women)

  • Other chronic conditions (hyperthyroidism and pericarditis)

AFib is a common complication after heart surgery. If you notice any irregularities with your heart before or after heart surgery, use Secure Messaging (sign in required) to talk to your health care team.

Notice the signs early

Unless it's drastic, it's normal not to feel an immediate change in your heartbeat. Symptoms of AFib can occur occasionally, frequently, or not at all. Learning the signs and symptoms of AFib may help you get an early diagnosis and reduce your risk of complications.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations

  • Fast or racing heartbeat

  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down

  • Chest pain

  • Low blood pressure

  • Dizziness or fainting

It's important to talk with your doctor if you notice changes in your heart. Left untreated, AFib can cause life-threatening complications, including stroke, heart failure, or ischemic heart disease.

Some complications of AFib include:

  • Blood Clots

  • Cognitive impairment and dementia

  • Heart attack

  • Heart failure

  • Stroke

If you notice any signs or symptoms of AFib, call your doctor or use My HealtheVet to make an appointment to visit your doctor.

Live a heart-healthy life

It's important to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes to lower your chances of developing AFib:

  • Understand your risks

  • Check your blood pressure and cholesterol

  • Get regular physical exercise

  • Limit your alcohol intake

  • Eliminate or decrease your alcohol intake

  • Look for ways to manage stress

You can start tracking your heart by logging your heart rate (sign in required) on My HealtheVet. With this record, you'll be better prepared to bring any concerns to your health care team.

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Read More

What Is Atrial Fibrillation? (Veterans Health Library)

Exercise for a Healthier Heart (Veterans Health Library)

Give Your Heart a Workout

Updated July 12, 2021