As the world’s population ages, experts predict an increase in the prevalence of atrial fibrillation (AFib). It’s estimated that 6 to 12 million Americans will have this diagnosis by 2050. The incidence in Europe is predicted to reach 17.9 million by 2060.

Have you been diagnosed with AFib or know someone who has? Continue reading to learn all about this condition. You will find information on what can trigger atrial fibrillation and how to live with it.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation describes a condition in which the heart beats faster than normal. The heart rhythm becomes irregular which compromises the heart’s function.

The normal heartbeat starts with an impulse in the right upper heart chamber (atrium). This electrical impulse travels to the right lower chamber (ventricle), then to the left atrium and left ventricle. The muscles in each chamber contract in response to this impulse.

This pattern allows each chamber to fill with blood and then squeeze it into the next chamber. After the blood travels through the lungs and gets oxygenated, it’s sent to the rest of the body.

During AFib, the impulses in the atria become chaotic and irregular. This means that the atria can’t fully fill with blood. This also interrupts the pattern of contraction and relaxation in the heart chambers.

As a result, less blood flows through the heart and lungs in one heartbeat. This decreases the amount of oxygen being delivered to the body. It also slows the flow of blood which can cause clots to form.

What Causes AFib?

The exact atrial fibrillation etiology or cause isn’t known. It’s more common in older people and those with other conditions such as:

  • Hypertension: high blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis: a build-up of plaque and fat deposits inside the arteries
  • A disease of the heart valves
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Cardiomyopathy: an enlargement of the heart
  • Pericarditis: inflammation of the sac around the heart
  • Pneumonia
  • Hyperthyroidism: overactivity of the thyroid gland
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Pulmonary embolism: an obstruction in the lungs
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

AFib is also seen in patients with none of these conditions. It’s even found among athletes who are physically fit.

What Can Trigger Atrial Fibrillation?

There are several factors that can trigger episodes of AFib. These include:

  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol and binge drinking
  • Obesity
  • Excess caffeine intake
  • Use of illegal drugs
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Skipping medication doses
  • Infections
  • Heart failure

If you have experienced an episode of AFib or have other risk factors, it’s best to avoid these triggers.

Symptoms of AFib

Some people have no symptoms to indicate episodes of AFib. Individuals who do experience symptoms may report the following:

  • Feeling like their heart is racing, irregular heartbeat, or flip-flopping in their chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Trouble exercising
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Chest pain

These symptoms may only last a few minutes to hours and come and go. Others have AFib that doesn’t stop and can last longer than 12 months. If the AFib persists and causes problems, treatment with medications or defibrillation can help.

In some cases, treatment with defibrillation (electric shock) doesn’t restore the normal rhythm. In these cases, patients take medications to control the heart rate and prevent blood clots.

Risks Associated with Atrial Fibrillation

Many people with this condition wonder, “is AFib dangerous”? Patients with AFib can live for decades and not experience problems. If it’s not treated, it may cause complications such as stroke and heart failure.

Living with AFIB

If you have received a diagnosis of AFib, the following are tips to help manage your condition.

  • Be sure to let your provider know if you are having trouble with daily activities
  • Take your medicines exactly the way they’re prescribed
  • Know the signs and symptoms you should immediately report to a doctor
  • Be sure to complete all routine tests as ordered
  • Actively manage other health conditions that may worsen your AFib
  • Adopt a heart-healthy eating plan
  • Lose weight if indicated
  • Exercise according to your doctor’s instructions
  • Find ways to decrease the stress in your life
  • Continue to participate in hobbies and social activities

Mental health and happiness impact physical health. Develop a support network. Don’t shy away from accepting help when it’s offered.

Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Provider

Before going to a doctor’s visit, make a list of questions you have. This helps to ensure that you don’t forget to ask something. The following are some questions that many people have about AFib.

  • Should I avoid certain activities?
  • What type of exercise is best for me?
  • What might trigger my AFib?
  • What is my risk of having a stroke?
  • How can I lower my risk of having a stroke or heart attack?
  • Can my AFib be cured?
  • Are there certain foods I should avoid due to my medications?
  • What symptoms should I report to you immediately?

For most people, you can decrease your anxiety by becoming educated about your disease. Many times, our imagination is much worse than reality. Know the facts so you can make the right adjustments in your life and not stop living your life.

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