Your heart might flutter when you see that special someone, when you’re stepping onto a rollercoaster, or when you’re interviewing for your dream job — and you probably wouldn’t even think twice.
But when your heart flutters seemingly out of nowhere, you might be a little confused or even worried. If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing a heart condition called atrial fibrillation (AFib), which is the most common type of irregular heartbeat.
AFib is when your heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly. It can happen every once in a while, or it can happen more frequently. While it’s very common — up to 6.1 million people in the US have experienced AFib — it’s not something you should just brush off. It can cause your heart to not pump enough oxygen-rich blood to your body, which can lead to dementia, heart failure, stroke, or even death.
Awareness is key to preventing complications from AFib. Here are 6 facts about AFib:
1. Your chances of experiencing AFib increase with age.
About 2% of people younger than 65 have AFib, but that number increases to about 9% for people over 65. And while 6.1 million might currently have it, that number is expected to go up as the US population ages.
Because of the influx of “baby boomers” — people born between the 1940s and 1960s — the US population will soon have more people in the age group that’s at risk. By 2050, it is predicted that as many as 12 million people in the US will be affected by AFib.
2. It’s possible to have no noticeable symptoms and still have AFib.
Many people with AFib experience symptoms such as a racing, fluttering, pounding, or irregular-feeling heartbeat, lightheadedness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
However, it’s also very possible to experience no symptoms whatsoever and still have AFib. In that case, you may be diagnosed with AFib through a physical exam or an electrocardiogram (EKG). This makes regular check-ups increasingly important as you age.
3. Some people are more prone to AFib.
There are many factors that make you more vulnerable to AFib — some that you can change and some that might be out of your control.
One major risk factor is high blood pressure, which accounts for 14% to 22% of AFib cases. Other conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, can also put you at risk for AFib. These can often be managed with a healthy diet and exercise.
You may also have an increased risk of AFib if you have previously been affected by heart failure, heart disease, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism.
Certain behaviors, such as smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, or doing long-term athletic conditioning — such as training for a marathon — can increase your risk of AFib, as well.
Your physician can help you determine your AFib risk and create a plan for preventing or managing it.
4. The financial costs of AFib add up.
About $6 billion dollars is spent on AFib each year in the US, including costs for treatment and prevention.
Medical costs can be about $8,700 higher per year for people who do have AFib compared to those who don’t. This can be due to treatments, such as medication, surgery, and regular check-ups. And if you have an AFib-related hospital stay, that amount can increase even more.
Since AFib can become costly, managing your AFib is a worthy investment. Talk to your physician about how to monitor the condition and measures you can take, such as not smoking and getting to a healthy weight.
5. AFib can increase your risk of having a stroke or other serious complications.
Each year, more than 750,000 hospitalizations occur because of AFib. This is due to the fact that AFib can cause serious complications.
For instance, it can cause your blood to pool up, which can form a clot, travel to the brain, and cause a stroke. This is not something to take lightly — People with AFib are 5 times more likely to have a stroke compared with those who don’t have AFib.
There is also a risk of heart failure because of the weakening of the heart muscle over time. It’s estimated that AFib contributes to around 13,000 deaths per year in the US, a rate that has been rising for more than two decades.
6. There are many ways to live safely with AFib.
AFib doesn’t need to get in the way of leading a normal, healthy life. By controlling your risk factors for heart disease and stroke, and knowing what might trigger your AFib, you can improve the effects of this condition.
Risk factors can include:
- High blood pressure
- Poor sleep habits
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Consuming caffeine
If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, work with your physician on starting a heart-healthy diet and beginning a fitness program. Healthy eating and exercise can help you manage these conditions, which can then make it easier to manage AFib. If you are overweight, talk with your primary care provider about seeing a Cotton O’Neil Weight Management provider.
Many people experience AFib because of common triggers like caffeine, stress, and poor sleep. Avoiding these triggers can also help manage your condition.
In some cases, your physician might prescribe medication to control your heart rate or rhythm or a blood thinner to reduce your risk of a blood clot.
What If I Think I Have AFib?
If you think you have AFib, or have had AFib symptoms in the past, it’s important to see your primary care provider right away. Even if the symptoms go away, you may need to have a physical exam and have your heart monitored.
Your physician will be able to diagnose AFib with an electrocardiogram (EKG). They may also discuss your family medical history and perform a physical exam. If they diagnose you with AFib, they’ll assess your risk for developing blood clots from it, and you’ll be put on a treatment plan.
Treatment may involve lifestyle changes — such as diet and exercise — as well as medications, outpatient procedures, or surgery that can help prevent blood clots and restore your heart’s normal rhythm.
Remember: AFib might mean making some lifestyle changes, but it doesn’t need to get in the way of enjoying a happy and healthy life.
Do you have questions about AFib? Call the Cotton O’Neil Heart Center at (785) 270-4000 to make an appointment, or call (785) 270-4440 to set up an appointment with a Stormont Vail primary care provider.