Give AFib the Boot with Healthy Habits

AFibIt can feel like your heart is flip-flopping, beating fast, or skipping beats. Atrial fibrillation (AFib)--or irregular heartbeat--affects more than 2 million Americans.

Because AFib raises the risk for stroke, it is a big concern. Getting blood pressure, body weight, and smoking under control can help prevent AFib. The Q&A below can help answer your questions about AFib.



Q: What Is AFib?

A: Electrical signals travel through the heart and make it beat regularly. But with AFib, these signals can’t do their job as well, so the heart does not beat normally. The damage that causes AFib usually happens because of other health conditions. For example, uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage the heart and upset the electrical signals. So can valvular heart disease, coronary artery disease, sleep apnea, or excessive alcohol.

Q: How Can AFib Lead to Stroke?

A: When the heart doesn’t beat normally, blood stays inside the heart’s chambers for too long. This can cause a blood clot to form. Then it can travel to an artery in the brain and get stuck there, causing a stroke. People with untreated AFib may have a five times higher risk for stroke than people without AFib.

Q: How Can I Prevent AFib?

A: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends these healthy lifestyle choices to prevent AFib:

  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Limit saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars, alcohol, and cholesterol. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Keep a healthy weight.

All the above steps promote healthy blood pressure--and that’s important. High blood pressure accounts for 14 to 22 percent of AFib cases.

Q: Do I Have AFib?

A: We can often feel extra heartbeats, skipped heartbeats, or a racing heartbeat, but not all extra beats are AFib. If you think you might have AFib, talk with your health care provider.

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