A heart monitor.

Understanding the Risks of Atrial Fibrillation

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Heart health is something we should all look after, not only as we age but throughout our entire lifespan. That is why it is so important to know about different heart conditions, their symptoms, the risks and how to prevent them as we get older. One of the heart conditions that everyone should be aware of is atrial fibrillation. Let’s answer the question: what is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial Fibrillation Defined

Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat. It occurs when the upper two chambers of the heart beat erratically and out of coordination with the lower two chambers of the heart. When the heart does this it can increase the risk of a stroke, a heart attack, or it can be associated with other heart problems.

What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?

There are so many possible causes for atrial fibrillation. The range is so wide that it can sometimes be difficult to narrow down. That is why it is always good to go see a doctor if you feel you have an irregular heartbeat. Here is a list of causes from the Mayo Clinic (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020):

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Congenital heart defects
  • An overactive thyroid gland or other metabolic imbalance
  • Exposure to stimulants, such as medications, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol
  • Sick sinus syndrome, which is an improper functioning of the heart's natural pacemaker
  • Lung diseases
  • Previous heart surgery
  • Viral infections
  • Stress due to surgery, pneumonia or other illnesses
  • Sleep apnea

What Are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?

It can go undetected in some people for a long time and will not show up until an exam is done by their doctor. It is, however, more common for people to have symptoms. The symptoms can range from heart palpitations to chest pain. A heart palpitation is a fluttering in your chest, similar to a flip flop feeling.

Some people with this condition may also experience weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness and shortness of breath. Atrial fibrillation can be frequent in some people, but only occasional in others. Some people even have a case where it is a permanent part of their life. As with any irregular feeling in your chest, you should go see your doctor to ensure your heart is in good condition. Doing so will help prevent you from having a serious heart problem in the future.

Who Is at Risk?

There are certain factors that will put you at a higher risk of atrial fibrillation than others, and the number one risk factor is age. The older you are, the higher your chance is for developing an irregular heartbeat. There are other risk factors too though.

People with high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid problems, sleep apnea, diabetes, kidney disease and lung disease are at a much higher risk of atrial fibrillation. If you consume a lot of alcohol you are increasing your risk of atrial fibrillation as well. People with a family history of heart problems can be at an increased risk and the age of these people does not matter. In the case of obesity, you are also at a higher risk of developing heart problems like atrial fibrillation.

How to Prevent Atrial Fibrillation

The best way to prevent atrial fibrillation, and any heart problem, is to live a healthy lifestyle. That means eating a diet that is healthy for your heart. Generally, you want to eat a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol. It is important to check your blood pressure on a regular basis because healthy blood pressure will help to keep you from developing atrial fibrillation.

Maintaining a healthy body weight will help you to optimize your heart health. You can do this again by watching what you eat, eating heart healthy foods and being physically active. Physical activity is one of the best ways to help protect your heart from any problems in the future, but please remember that you should consult your doctor before trying any new physical activity.

It is good to limit or avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol, as well as not smoking or being around people who are smoking. Consuming tobacco has been linked to many heart problems. Another area to watch is your use of common cold and flu medications because there are certain drugs in them that are known to cause atrial fibrillation.

Finally, you will also want to try to reduce stress in your life. Stress is a huge cause of health problems in adults. It seems like every day there is a new study being released about stress being a large factor in adult health. By limiting stress in your life, you are most certainly reducing your chances of having any heart problems.