Newly Diagnosed with AFib? What You Need to Know.
July 27, 2023
If you’re newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), you’re not alone. It’s the most common type of irregular heartbeat — up to six million Americans have it. It’s typical to wonder what living with AFib will be like and to have questions about what’s next after an AFib diagnosis.
“AFib is a serious condition, but the good news is that we can frequently treat it before it becomes a significant problem,” says John Cogan, MD, an electrophysiologist (EP) at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute.
Can You Live a Long, Normal Life With AFib?
You can lead a full life whether your episodes come and go (paroxysmal AFib) or you have persistent atrial fibrillation (ongoing or chronic AFib episodes). Treatments can minimize symptoms and lower your risk of stroke, something that increases when you have AFib.
“And you can make lifestyle changes that, in some cases, can stop AFib altogether,” says Dr. Cogan.
Consider Your Medication and Treatment Options
You and your healthcare provider can discuss your treatment options. Keep in mind that AFib treatment has two goals:
1. Increase Longevity
“AFib isn’t fatal, though it may make you feel bad,” says Dr. Cogan. “Your heart rate may go to 200, and you might not like how that feels. But it won’t kill you. It’s the risk of stroke when you have AFib that’s dangerous.”
People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke. During an AFib attack, your heart doesn’t pump effectively. Blood pools in your heart, and clots can form. A stroke occurs when a clot breaks away, travels to the blood vessels in your brain and blocks blood flow.
To prevent AFib-related deaths, providers focus on reducing the risk of stroke by prescribing blood-thinning medications. These make clots less likely to form.
2. Improve Quality of Life
AFib treatment includes medications and noninvasive or minimally invasive procedures to restore a regular heartbeat. Choosing a treatment depends on how much AFib symptoms are bothering you.
“If you do nothing, you’ll continue to have symptoms, but it won’t necessarily get worse,” Dr. Cogan says. “A procedure can return your heart to normal rhythm or correct the problem to make symptoms go away. Medication may also help reduce symptoms.”
Learning more about the type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) you have, what triggers it and available treatments can help you decide what to do.
What Should I Avoid if I Have AFib?
Some things can trigger AFib episodes, but it varies by individual. Avoid these common triggers if you notice they cause an irregular heartbeat in you:
- Anxiety and stress
- Sleep problems
- Stimulants, including caffeine and nicotine
Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Avoiding triggers is important when you have AFib, but so is adopting healthier habits. Your lifestyle choices have a significant impact on your heart.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing younger people with AFib. For many of them, the condition is driven by excess weight, untreated sleep apnea and excess alcohol,” says Demetrio Castillo, MD, an EP at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute.
Lifestyle changes can prevent AFib episodes and reduce your risk of stroke. For instance, untreated sleep apnea is strongly linked to AFib. “It’s possible that if you treat sleep apnea, you’ll never have another AFib episode,” says Dr. Castillo.
To reduce AFib symptoms and boost overall health, try to:
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get regular exercise
- Develop healthy ways to cope with stress
- Sleep at least seven hours a night
How Can I Tell if AFib is Getting Worse?
Your condition may be getting worse if AFib symptoms become more severe or feel different than they did previously. Or you may notice that you can no longer tolerate exercise or perform daily activities. Discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. But seek emergency care if you:
- Experience chest pain or pressure
- Feel faint
- Have difficulty breathing
- Pass out
What are the signs of an AFib attack?
Sometimes AFib episodes occur without causing symptoms. But if you do feel them, you may notice the following:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Heartbeat in your throat
- Pounding heartbeat or racing heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Skipped beats, fluttering or quivering sensation in your chest
Schedule an Appointment for Heart and Vascular Services
Learn more about heart and vascular services at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute. To schedule an appointment with a cardiologist, electrophysiologist, or vascular specialist at Memorial Healthcare System, call 855-400-6284.