February 23, 2021

The Basics of Atrial Fibrillation

February is Heart Disease Awareness Month.

In recognition of Heart Disease Awareness month, we present some basic information about atrial fibrillation and its symptoms.


The most common type of irregular heartbeat

Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib), is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It occurs when one or both upper chambers of the heart―called the atria―don’t beat the way they should. This can cause blood to pool in the left atrium, where a blood clot can form. If the clot breaks away, it can travel to the brain. In the brain, the clot can cause a stroke that reduces blood flow and deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients.


Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Managing atrial fibrillation requires you to pay close attention to your symptoms. Recognizing symptoms early is the best way to prevent complications and stay well. Symptoms to watch out for can include:

  • A racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat or a flip-flopping feeing in your chest (palpitations)
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Shortness of breath


Monitoring and managing symptoms

If you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, your doctor may talk to you about blood thinning medications to help reduce the risk of stroke. Take all your medications as directed. Never change medications without a doctor’s direction. Do not skip doses.

If you do take blood thinning medications, watch for signs of bleeding in the stomach or digestive system such as black or tarry stools. Let your doctor know right away if you see any signs of this.

Keep your appointments with your doctors, even if you’re feeling healthy. Continued monitoring is very important.


Improving heart health

You can improve your heart health with good nutrition, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking. Remain physically active. A good goal is to walk for 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week. Living a healthy lifestyle that includes managing stress can play a big role in maintaining heart health.

If you have questions about atrial fibrillation or would like to take steps to help prevent heart disease, talk to your doctor.