The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 6.1 million people in the United States have Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), and as the population continues to age, the numbers are expected to rise. Recent studies predict that the number of individuals with AFib could reach epidemic levels as a result of the growing aging Baby Boomer population. The risk for AFib increases with age, along with other factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and even heavy alcohol use. Approximately 2% of people younger than 65 have AFib, while 9% of people 65 or older have it. For those who have AFib, their risk for stroke increases by 4 to 5 times compared to those who don’t have it. As a matter of fact, AFib is the primary culprit of 15-20% of all strokes that occur in people aged 65 or older.
In the Journal of the American Heart Association, research showed that annual visits to the emergency room for AFib complications increased by 30.7% in just a 7-year span (from 2007 to 2014). In that same timeframe, hospital-related charges for admitted patients increased by 37%, from $7.39 billion in 2007 to $10.1 billion in 2014.
These statistics may seem alarming, but as the condition comes to the forefront of American health consciousness, it’s important to start understanding the risk factors and how to mitigate them.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib, is a type of arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. It’s defined by an irregular heartbeat that prevents the upper chambers of the heart from contracting at a normal pace. When a person with a normal heartbeat is at rest, the upper chamber contracts around 60-80 times per minute. With AFib, however, the upper chambers of the heart can flutter as much as 300 to 600 times per minute.
The risk for stroke increases with AFib because, if a blood clot forms in the upper chamber of the heart, it can quickly be pumped directly to the brain, leading to an embolic stroke.
4 important symptoms you shouldn’t ignore
If you experience any of these symptoms collectively and/or often, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
- Trouble breathing – when you’re having a hard time catching your breath, or you have to take deep breaths frequently.
- Dizziness – when you feel like you could lose your balance at any time, or if the room you’re in feels like it’s spinning.
- Heart palpitations – when your heart feels like it’s fluttering or flopping in your chest.
- Fatigue – when you experience low energy and/or general malaise.
How to manage AFib or prevent it altogether
If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib or have a higher risk of developing it, there are plenty of treatment options available to help reduce the symptoms and keep you feeling healthy. Make sure to talk with your doctor about finding the best AFib management plan for you.
- Focus on your fridge.
- Get movin’!
- Light yoga or weight training can do wonders for your heart. And don’t forget your cardio! Try doing up to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise for 4-5 days each week.
- Start monitoring your blood pressure.
- The most common cause of atrial fibrillation is uncontrolled high blood pressure and heart disease, so routine monitoring at home will definitely help keep your heart health top-of-mind.
- A prescription treatment may alleviate symptoms.
- For patients at a higher risk of complications due to AFib, beta-blockers or oral blood thinners may be prescribed to slow down your heart rate and prevent stroke risk.
Consult your doctor if you think you’re at risk for AFib.
Remember: AFib is treatable. If you take the proper steps to manage your symptoms and reduce complications with your doctor’s help, you can lead a normal, happy, healthy life. Complete™ by OMRON Healthcare, Inc. is a blood pressure monitor for home use that has built-in EKG capabilities. Ask your doctor if it may be right for you.