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Understanding Atrial Fibrillation

Presented by HealthPRO-Heritage Rehabilitation Team

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

(Also called A-Fib) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).  In A-Fib the heart’s two small upper chambers (atria) don’t beat the way they should.  Instead of beating in a normal pattern, the atria beat irregularly and too fast, quivering like a bowl of gelatin.  With atrial fibrillation, random electrical activity interrupts the normal conduction rhythm. This prevents the atria from contracting properly, and only a portion of the atria’s blood is released to the ventricle. The blood then has the opportunity to pool and subsequently clot in the atrium, which can cause a stroke.  A normal heart rhythm or pulse is 60-100 beats per minute; however, with A-Fib it can be between 100-175 bpm. With the right treatment, you can live a good life with A-Fib. Untreated A-fib can lead to blood clots, stroke, and other heart-related problems, including heart failure.


Symptoms of A-Fib:

* General Fatigue                                                                      * Faintness or Confusion

* Rapid or irregular heartbeat; “fluttering” sensation.      * Fatigue when exercising

* Dizziness                                                                                  * Sweating

* Shortness of Breath                                                               * Chest pain or pressure

* Weakness                                                                                    -this is a medical emergency. You

                                                                                                        may be having a heart attack.

  • Sometimes people with A-Fib have no symptoms and their condition is only detectable upon physical examination.



  • The estimated number of individuals with A-Fib in 2010 was 33.5 million, and is the most common type of irregular heartbeat.
  • According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 15% of strokes are a result of A-Fib.
  • A-Fib is the most common complication after heart surgery.
  • Even if you have no symptoms at all, you are nearly 5 times more likely to have a stroke than someone who doesn’t have A-Fib.


Risk Factors for A-Fib:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Coronary Heart Disease, heart defects, heart failure
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease or Pericarditis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes or metabolic syndrome
  • Smoking
  • Lung Disease or Kidney Disease
  • Sleep Apnea
  • A family history of A-Fib
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Episodes of A-Fib are often triggered by certain activities such as drinking too much alcohol, too much caffeine or other stimulants, and periods of severe stress including the stress of the body fighting infection and stress of recent surgery.


Detection and Treatment of A-Fib:

  • To determine if you have A-Fib, your doctor will rely on a combination of your medical history, a physical exam, results from an EKG, which is a test to record the heart’s electrical activity, and possibly other methods to monitor your heart’s rhythm over a period of time.
  • Treatment will likely depend on your age, symptoms, frequency of episodes, your risk for stroke, and other health conditions including heart disease.
  • Treatment will include lifestyle changes including diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, exercising regularly, stopping smoking, managing stress, and taking medication as directed.
  • Possible medical procedures include electrical cardioversion, a low voltage “shock” to restore normal rhythm; catheter-based ablation, a tube threaded into the heart to fix faulty electrical signals; surgical maze, small scar lines made on the heart, during heart surgery, to prevent or redirect abnormal beats from controlling the heart; and pacemakers or atrial defibrillators, implantable devices to restore and maintain regular heart rhythm.


Keeping Your Energy with A-Fib:

Between the sleepiness, fatigue, low energy and general malaise atrial fibrillation can be a draining disorder. While some people won’t detect too much of a difference in their energy levels, many of those who live with A-Fib complain of frequent fatigue that can interrupt their daily routine. Managing your A-Fib symptoms is a key to improving processes in your body and boosting your energy levels. You can modify your routine to respect your limitations, helping you to conserve more energy to use throughout the day. And by working to keep your symptoms to a minimum, you can avoid the consequences of a prolonged elevated heart rate.  The therapy team at HealthPRO-Heritage can help educate and train individuals to incorporate energy conservation techniques in their daily activities to improve overall efficiency and reduce fatigue levels.


Regular physical activity is an important way for you to live a healthy lifestyle, which can make you feel better and decrease symptoms while dealing with heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation.  Getting active can also help prevent other heart diseases or strokes as well as assist with weight management.

One study found that moderate physical activity is safe and effective for people with atrial fibrillation. Physical activity also helped improve their quality of life and increase their ability to exercise and participate in daily living activities.  The therapy team at HealthPro-Heritage can help you develop a moderate exercise program that would not only keep your strength at optimal levels, but could also improve cardiovascular endurance while learning to monitor and manage symptoms of A-Fib.

For further education and information, and to answer any questions, please attend our “When the Beat is Irregular: Understanding Atrial Fibrillation” presentation at the Kensington Sierra Madre on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. in the cinema.


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