Are you one of the more than 2 million Americans who suffer from atrial fibrillation (AF)? The disorder is the most common type of heart arrhythmia, which causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver rapidly and irregularly.
AF isn’t life-threatening, but it can increase your chance of having a stroke, heart failure, heart attack and chest pain, so it needs to be managed.
Treatment for this condition depends on your heart’s condition, how bad your symptoms are and whether you’ve had a stroke. Common therapies include:
Medications such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, which can slow down your heartbeat. Blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin, heparin or aspirin may be prescribed if you’re undergoing electrical cardioversion (see below), if you’ve had a stroke or if your healthcare provider thinks you’re at risk for having a stroke later.
Electrical cardioversion, a procedure in which a brief electrical shock is delivered to the heart via special paddles or pads, is aimed at restoring a normal heartbeat.
Lifestyle changes that go a long way in helping to control the problem:
- If you’re taking a blood thinner, keep your intake of vitamin K constant to avoid bleeding problems. Fluctuations in vitamin K can counteract blood thinners’ benefits. The recommended daily intake of vitamin K is 120 micrograms (mcg) for men, 90 mcg for women.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can trigger AF.
- Stick to a low-sodium and low-fat diet to control blood pressure and cholesterol. Use salt substitutes or herbs and spices instead of reaching for the salt shaker.
- Talk with your healthcare provider about an appropriate exercise regimen, even if your heart rate needs to be slowed. Physical activity won’t necessarily raise your heart rate if you’re on medications.
- Quit smoking.
- Let your doctor know about any over-the-counter medications or supplements you’re taking—especially if you take warfarin.