To celebrate National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month (September), I decided to review some of the latest research, guidelines and social media portals to get immersed in the most common educational and emotional needs for clients and family caregivers who are living with Atrial Fibrillation (also known as “AFib”).
“AFib – One heartbeat away from a stroke.”
“What you don’t know about AFib could kill you or someone you care about.”
The quotes above were used as article headlines for recent campaigns that emphasize the importance of recognizing and treating AFib. I wonder what it must be like for clients with AFib to read these statements. One could walk away feeling like a walking time bomb. Recent research highlights that anxiety can be both a symptom and a trigger for AFib.
Health educators are trained to empower clients and caregivers by offering education and tools that drive confidence and reduce anxiety.
After my review of numerous peer-reviewed journals and client/caregiver social media posts, it seems that there is great uncertainty from clients who want to learn more about the causes, types, symptoms, treatments and lifestyle changes that come with AFib. I am hoping that this blog resolves some of this uncertainty, and provides the tools and resources to improve prevention, symptom recognition, treatment and overall quality of life.
Learn About Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
Atrial Fibrillation, also known as “AFib”, is described by the American Heart Association (AHA) as a “quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.” The cause of AFib is unknown, but research has shown that AFib can often run in families.
I think the keyword here is “can.” With proper education, diagnosis and treatment, AFib can be effectively managed. In fact, the American Heart Association notes that, “Although Atrial Fibrillation can feel weird and frightening, an ‘attack of AF’ usually doesn’t have harmful consequences by itself.” I think this is an important and reassuring message that is often missed by clients and families.
Know the Symptoms of AFib
“My heart flip-flops, skips beats, and feels like it’s banging against my chest wall, especially if I’m carrying stuff up my stairs or bending down.” – quote from a person with AFib (Read more about their experience here)
The gripping quote above captures the symptoms of AFib through the eyes of someone experiencing it firsthand. It is important to note that there are different types of AFib, and each person may experience AFib differently. The great content and tools below from the American Heart Association can help clients, family caregivers and healthcare providers to recognize AFib. It is also important to note that some people have AFib but do not notice the symptoms on their own. In this case, the symptoms are often found during a regular exam.
Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms Checklist
Below is a list of the most common atrial fibrillation symptoms:
(Place a check next to any symptoms that you notice and share the list with your healthcare provider.)
Rapid and irregular heartbeat
Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
Shortness of breath
Fatigue when exercising
Chest pain* or pressure
*Chest pain or pressure is a medical emergency. You may be having a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
Click to learn more: What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation AFib or AF?
Know The Types of AFib
The 3 types of AFib and how each type is different:
1) Paroxysmal AFib:
- When the heart returns to a normal rhythm on its own.
- Symptoms may happen a few times a year or may occur every day.
- Symptoms are very unpredictable and can become permanent
2) Persistent AFib:
- Symptoms last for longer than 48 hours and do not return to normal without treatment.
3) Permanent AFib
- Symptoms are always present and cannot be controlled by treatment
Ask your healthcare provider which type of AFib you or someone you care about may have , and how it should be treated.
Form Your AFib Care Team
An effective AFib care team should include:
- Family Doctor
- Nurse/Nurse Practitioner/Physicians Assistant
- Cardiac Procedure Specialist
- Cardiac Surgeon
- Wellness expert
- Support Group
- Family and Friends
Know the Risk Factors and Importance of Treatment
It is important to know that when AFib is not diagnosed and treated, there is a great risk for the following serious medical problems:
- Heart failure
- Chronic fatigue
- Other heart rhythm problems
- Poor blood supply
Clients often minimize their risk and need for treatment. I believe that this is driving the very dire headlines which emphasize the serious risk of AFib and the need for action. It is important to know the risk factors of AFib and to reach out to your healthcare provider if you have concerns.
Common risk factors include:
- Advanced age
- Family history
- Existing heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Drinking too much alcohol
- High level of physical activity (Example: Marathon runners)
- High level of anxiety
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid problems
Click to learn more: Who is at Risk for Atrial Fibrillation (AF or AFib)? and Atrial Fibrillation in Endurance Athletes
Learn how AFib can be Prevented
Anxiety related to AFib is understandable. Any time a condition affects one’s heart, there is fear and concern. The good news is that AFib can be treated. In some cases, AFib can even be prevented. Common AFib prevention tips include:
- Get regular physical activity
- Eat a heart-healthy diet, low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
- Manage high blood pressure
- Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine
- Don’t smoke
- Control cholesterol
- Maintain a healthy weight
Learn how AFib can be Treated
If you or someone care about have been diagnosed with AFib, it is important to work with a cardiologist to develop the best treatment plan for you. Common AFib treatments include:
Here are a few important items to keep in mind to help you formulate a heart disease care plan: Treatment Options of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)
Understand and Manage Your Emotions
In closing, we want to emphasize that importance of treating both the physical and emotional symptoms of AFib. As mentioned above, AFib can cause anxiety, depression, uncertainty and lifestyle changes for both the client and their family. You may start to avoid activities that you have enjoyed in the past. If you struggle with these emotional issues, the following “A Patient’s Guide to Living with Atrial Fibrillation” from the American Heart Association can help.
Connect with Peers
Stopafib.org is a great example of a dynamic online community of people living with AFib. Peer-to-peer learning and support can reduce anxiety and help clients and families to realize that they are not alone. Here is a good link to learn more about the symptoms and types of AFib through real stories from clients and their family caregivers: http://www.stopafib.org/stories.cfm
We hope that this blog has connected you with tools and resources that help to prevent, identify and manage AFib.
Are there other tools or resources that have been helpful for you? If so, please comment below.
For more information, please review our Heart Disease & Atrial Fibrillation Resources.