Atrial Fibrillation Also called: AF, AFib

Living With AFib: Experts and Patients Share 10 Tips

If you have atrial fibrillation (often called AFib), you’re not alone.

AFib is the most common type of heart arrhythmia—a problem with the heart’s rhythm. It happens when the electrical signals that help the heart function become chaotic and misfire. You may feel a fluttering sensation in your chest, or your heart might be racing or skipping beats, which can be worrying; although not all people have these signs.

Living with AFib can affect many different aspects of your life, including your stamina, relationships and emotional health. But taking an active role in your care can help you feel better and more in control.  

Below are some practical tips to help you live with and manage your condition.   

1. Talk with your doctor about how AFib is affecting your life.

Your care team knows only what you tell them. They will want to know how you are feeling to better tailor your treatment. Are you limiting certain activities for fear that it might make your AFib worse?

What can or can’t you do because of how you are feeling?

Many people with AFib also have heart failure. Ask about how to pace yourself and when to report in.

2. Know your stroke risk.

AFib can put you at up to five times greater risk of stroke. Your doctor is in the best position to calculate your risk. Most people with AFib need to take a prescription blood thinner to prevent clots from forming; some need only aspirin.

3. Take your medications exactly as prescribed.

Medications are an important part of managing AFib, your heart rate and the risk of stroke. But medications work only if you take them the right way. Always tell your health care provider about any side effects, and don’t stop taking or make changes to your medications without consulting your health care provider.

Over time, AFib can change the shape and size of the heart and how electrical signals are communicated. Medications can help regulate AFib, but they sometimes need to be changed or the dosage may need to be adjusted. Therapies such as cardioversion to try to “kick” the heart into a normal rhythm or ablation may be considered at a certain point if medications alone are not working well for your symptoms.

4. Take steps to manage other medical conditions.

These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, thyroid disorders diabetes and heart failure. Ask your provider about sleep apnea because many people with AFib also have this sleep disorder. Both need to be addressed.  

5. Eat a heart-healthy diet.

It’s very important to be mindful about the types of foods fueling your body. Talk with your health care team about how to adopt a healthy eating plan that is low in fat and salt. Ask whether consulting a dietitian would be helpful. Keep in mind that alcohol, caffeine and smoking can trigger episodes of AFib.

Common AFib triggers

  • Certain things can trigger atrial fibrillation and acute episodes in people who already have it. For example:
  • Infections
  • Heart failure
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Caffeine, which can increase your heart rate and spark an AFib episode in some individuals
  • Skipping doses of medications aimed to control AFib
  • Smoking or taking stimulants

6. Shed extra pounds.

Studies have shown that losing weight, if needed, can help ease symptoms and episodes of AFib in some people. It may even reduce the amount of medication you need to take.

7. Find an exercise plan that fits your life.

Talk with your health care team about what exercise routine is best for you, including the type and frequency of activity. Moving your body also helps boost feel-good hormones and tends to set you on the right path to make healthy food choices. In fact, studies show that people with AFib who exercise are better able to manage their condition and go about usual activities than those who are not active.

Some people with AFib say they are wary of exercising for fear that it will make their condition worse. While it may not be a good idea to take part in overly vigorous workouts, strengthening your heart is important, so find time to talk with your health care team about what’s the best choice for you.  

8. Destress.

Excessive worry and intense bouts of anger or anxiety can make AFib worse due to faster heart rates. Of course, the onset of symptoms themselves can be fairly anxiety provoking.

Try to find ways to lower stress. For example, go for a walk, listen to music, exercise, or find ways to better manage your time. Research has shown that for some people with AFib, yoga helps them feel better and lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety/depression scores.  

9. Stay connected socially.

Don’t let AFib define you. Continue or pursue new hobbies, and participate in community or faith-based activities. Many people say doing so helps them to cope and keep a positive attitude.

10. Get support and accept help when it is offered.

Other people may not understand how AFib makes you feel or affects your ability to do certain things or what to do to help. Try to anticipate your needs ahead of time so you know what might be most helpful if friends and family ask what they can do.

Consider bringing someone to your medical appointment to help you remember what was said and who can think of questions to ask, walk with a buddy for motivation to exercise or reach out to other people with AFib for support.   

Questions to ask

It can be helpful to write down a list of questions before each medical appointment. Some questions might include:
  • What type of exercise program is best for me? Are there activities I should avoid?
  • Should I be keeping track of any health markers at home (for example, my weight or pulse)?
  • Are there things that might trigger episodes of AFib? If so, what are they?
  • What is my risk of having a stroke?
  • What steps can I take to lower my risk of heart attack or stroke?
  • Will my AFib ever go away?
  • How can I explain my condition to other people?
  • If I’m on warfarin, does it mean I can’t eat any greens?
  • After starting blood thinners, what should I do if I notice that I'm bruising more than usual?
  • How can a pacemaker help manage AFib?  
  • Are there other resources for information and support?

Resources to help

Visit CardioSmart to learn more about atrial fibrillation and other heart-related topics and get practical tips for heart healthy living, taking medications and much more. You can also connect with other people who have AFib.

In addition to the resources on CardioSmart, you can find out more about AFib by visiting:

American Heart Association
www.heart.org
 
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
www.nhlbi.nih.gov

StopAfib.org
www.stopafib.org

U.S. National Library of Medicine
www.medlineplus.com
Search "atrial fibrillation"

Published: September 2016
Medical Reviewers: Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA, FASPC, Editor-in Chief of CardioSmart; Mikhael F. El-Chami, MD, FACC; Marci Farquhar-Snow, NP, AACC

Featured Video

AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.

Infographic: AFib

Patient Resource

Featured Video

Dr. Kanny S. Grewal, FACC, presents at a Living with Atrial Fibrillation event in Columbus, Ohio in Oct. 2014.