It’s normal for your heart to thump and pound during rigorous exercise, but not when you’re just working at your desk or relaxing.
A fluttering, thumping, or irregular heartbeat could be a sign of atrial fibrillation or AFib as it is known, according to Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital Blue Cross.
AFib affects millions and contributes to the high annual cost of stroke in America. Counting medical costs and lost work that figure was estimated at $46 billion in 2014 and 2015, according to the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2020 report. September is National AFib awareness month, and a good time to learn about AFib risk factors, treatments, and prevention.
People with AFib may experience lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain, while others show no symptoms at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Some AFib patients talk about a fluttering sensation in their chest,” Dr. Chambers said. “If you experience any of these sensations you should schedule an appointment so your doctor can conduct a physical exam, review your symptoms and medical history, and order further testing if needed to make a diagnosis.”
AFib is more common in people over 65, but the CDC estimates that about 2% of people under 65, or nearly 6 million people in the U.S. have AFib.
High blood pressure, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, diabetes, and prior heart surgery or heart attack are major risk factors.
AFib is linked to a host of complications including, most notably, a four-to-fivefold increase in risk for stroke. Blood clots formed in an irregularly beating heart can circulate through the body and lodge in the brain causing the stroke.
Treatments for AFib vary from medicine to surgery and are designed to control the heart rate and rhythm, and to prevent blood clots from forming. The duration and intensity of a patient’s symptoms, the underlying causes, and each patient’s health history are considered by doctors and patients in choosing the right treatment.
“The best way to avoid AFib, or to manage complications if you already have it, is through a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Chambers said. “Quit smoking, get to a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat healthy, and avoid or decrease alcohol and caffeine use. That’s the answer to so many of our health problems.”