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What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Listen to what your heartbeat is telling you

A doctor walking a patient through their numbersAtrial 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.

Some risk factors for AFib include:

  • Older age

  • Having higher blood pressure

  • Having underlying heart disease

  • Drinking alcohol

  • 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. Being aware of the signs and symptoms can help make an early diagnosis and reduce your risk of complications related to AFib.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations

  • Fast or racing heartbeat

  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down

  • Chest pain

  • Low blood pressure

  • Dizziness or fainting

Noticing changes in your heart and talking to your doctor is important because leaving AFib untreated can cause serious, life-threatening complications. This is especially important for African Americans. Even though Caucasians have AFib at higher rates, research has found some complications are more common among African Americans 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

Even though AFib increases the risks of heart-related death and stroke, many people do not recognize the potentially serious consequences. It's important to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes to lower your chances of developing AFib.

A few things you can do to have a heart-healthy lifestyle include:

  • Understanding your risks

  • Checking your blood pressure and cholesterol

  • Getting regular physical exercise

  • Limiting your alcohol intake

  • Quitting smoking

  • Managing your 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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Have you discussed AFib with your doctor?

Read More

What Is Atrial Fibrillation? (Veterans Health Library)

Give Your Heart a Workout

Updated July 12, 2021