What is “A-Fib”?

Atrial fibrillation (A-Fib) is when the rhythm-keeper of the heart goes a little haywire.

Normally the heart has a steady beat, like a clock. All four chambers contract in sync and blood is efficiently pushed through.

During A-Fib, the top two chambers hesitate. They quiver and get out of sync with the bottom two. It can feel like the heart races.

Some people with A-Fib develop congestive heart failure(CHF). Another risk is stroke. Because of the irregular beat, the top chambers (the atria) don’t fully empty. Blood can pool in the heart and form a clot, causing a stroke if it gets to the brain.

Signs of A-Fib vary widely, from none to

  • a pounding heart that skips beats and feels like it flip flops in the chest. This is especially common during physical exertion, or
  • nausea, dizziness, a fast heartbeat, and shortness of breath.

Many people with atrial fibrillation lead highly engaged lives. If your loved one gets a diagnosis of A-Fib, support him or her to

  • take medications exactly as prescribed. Many of the drugs process through the body quickly. Taking a medication an hour or two late actually can cause problems.
  • get lab tests as required. Monitor blood thinners regularly. You don’t want too much or too little.
  • eat a heart-healthy diet. Focus on foods that are low in fat and have little or no salt. Pay attention to the dietary restrictions of any heart medications.
  • get regular, monitored exercise. Talk to the doctor about the appropriate type and amount.
  • keep the heart calm. Anger, anxiety, or stress raise the heart rate and can make the fibrillation worse. Try yoga, mindfulness, and other relaxation techniques.
  • avoid stimulants. Coffee, caffeinated sodas, and alcohol all promote a faster heartbeat.