What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Listen to what your heartbeat is telling you
Atrial 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:
Fast or racing heartbeat
Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down
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:
Cognitive impairment and dementia
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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What Is Atrial Fibrillation? (Veterans Health Library)
Exercise for a Healthier Heart (Veterans Health Library)
Updated July 12, 2021