Along with being Black History Month, February is also Heart Health Month. It’s something more of us should take seriously considering that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men. One of the many forms of heart disease that people may not know much about is atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, better known as an irregular heartbeat.
It’s the most common heart arrhythmia. This condition happens when the upper chambers of the heart beat out of sync with the lower chambers. More than 2.7 million Americans have the chronic condition, which can come with complications like blood clots, stroke and heart failure. To get some clarification on the condition as well as advice on how to deal with it, we spoke with Moe Jalloh, PharmD., a pharmacist and assistant professor at Touro University in California. Check out seven things you should know about AFib.
What Can Cause It?
There are so many things that can cause it. If you’re really concerned about being at risk, I highly recommend going to your primary care provider or physician to find out what is probably causing it in you. But generally speaking, things such as having hypertension, being elderly, having diabetes, those are definitely risk factors for having atrial fibrillation. That, as well as having a past history of having a heart attack, heart failure, etc. There are so many things that can happen, so I highly recommend going to your health care provider to find out what’s really causing it if you feel you’re at risk.
What’s the Difference Between a Slow Heartbeat vs. an Irregular One?
It’s definitely different. With atrial fibrillation, usually your heartbeat is irregular. That’s not saying it’s slower, but it might beat irregularly. Usually you can feel your heart and see it has a consistent rhythm. For someone with AFib, it’s going to be inconsistent. It’s not about if it’s beating slower, but if it’s beating inconsistently.
How Can You Keep Occasional Episodes From Becoming Long Term?
There are certain medications that can help with your heartbeat and that can help prevent complications, as well as medications that can prevent the likelihood of having a stroke. The problem is, when you have AFib, you have an increased risk of stroke or an increased risk of clots forming. And we usually prescribe medication to get rid of or prevent those clots from forming. Complications can be prevented. There are certain medications that can help regulate the heartbeat so you don’t have those consistent atrial fibrillation flutters or irregular heartbeats.
Can AFib Impact an Active Lifestyle?
I think it’s really patient specific. Some patients don’t have any physical symptoms of AFib, yet, based upon an EKG, would have atrial fibrillation. And then there are people who have the symptoms. Unfortunately, that’s based on case by case. But you could probably work with your primary care provider or physician to be able to differentiate what you could do and what you probably should stay away from.
Who Is Most at Risk for Complications?
I would say there are so many things that can increase the risk, but some things include if you have a history of cardiovascular disease or a history of heart failure; you’re older than 65; if you have diabetes; if you have high blood pressure; if you have any vascular diseases. Those, I would say, are a few things that could probably increase your risk of having a stroke if you have AFib.
What Are the Major Symptoms to Keep an Eye Out For?
I would say a big one is that your heartbeat is irregular. For example, it typically has a consistent beat. But if all of a sudden you’re sitting down and watching TV and out of nowhere, it takes a couple of seconds for the next beat, or the beats are irregular, I would worry and work with your physician to see if it’s AFib, or something else. But other people can have no symptoms at all and if you look at their EKG, still have it.
How Important Is Medication Adherence?
I would say that if you don’t take your medication, you’re making it harder for the medication to work and protect your body. And unfortunately, there are studies where people who aren’t taking their medication have caused an increase in hospital visits. It’s been calculated that over $100 billion was spent in hospital visits because people weren’t taking their medication. So that’s why it’s really important for people to do it.
If you have more questions about AFib, check out both the American Heart Association website, as well as the American Pharmacist Association website. There you can find tips and tricks about medication adherence and stay up to date about drug news. And as always, working with a physician and pharmacist to understand AFIb, how the medication works, why it works, and what are some of the benefits, risks or side effects, is important.
Images via Shutterstock