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What is Atrial Fibrillation and how to manage itby Tina Y. Gerber-McCurley

My husband has been having heart palpitations for years. He never knew why, and the onset of an episode was not always clear. He attributed it to playing football when he was younger. We now know he was experiencing episodes of 'Atrial Fibrillation.' He has been experiencing chest pains, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath and weakness. He would experience sudden pounding, fluttering and a racing sensation in his chest, but he would just continually brush it off. Often, this sensation would pass.

Atrial fibrillation is commonly called Afib. It is an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm which can lead to blood clots. Afib increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

It can be diagnosed by an electrocardiogram (ECG), which records your heart's electrical activity. Just ask your doctor if you are concerned; they can order tests to diagnose your condition. An electrocardiogram uses small sensors called electrodes which are attached to your chest and arms to sense and record electrical signals, as they travel through your heart. During an episode of atrial fibrillation, the heart's upper chambers (called the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly, out of sync with the heart's lower chamber (called the ventricles). This means blood is not effectively pumping as it should.

Many things can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation, such as: age, heart disease, high blood pressure, and chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, drinking alcohol, kidney disease, lung disease, and sleep apnea.

My husband, Martin, was just diagnosed with sleep apnea. It is important to talk with your doctor.

Martin continues to have episodes of atrial fibrillation; they come and go.

Having this in our lives, we can call the Pastor and ask people at Church to pray for him/us. This encourages us greatly. On a ride in the ambulance, a paramedic explained to Martin how important it is to learn the vagal maneuver to treat a fast heart rate, and it really helps him. We rarely need to call an ambulance, and he now knows what to do to bring his heartbeat back to a normal rhythm. It is still a scary time for both of us.

Healthy lifestyle choices and the proper medication can reduce the risk of heart disease and may prevent atrial fibrillation. Martin is certainly aware if he misses his medication.

There are some basic things you can do as part of your daily routine to feel better:

Doctors suggest reducing your stress levels, avoiding or limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, eating a nutritious diet, avoiding smoking, and getting regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

If you have any signs or questions about atrial fibrillation, make an appointment with your family doctor. This condition is different for each person, and treatment is individualized. This may include medications and administering an electrical shock to your heart, called catheter ablation, which scars the heart tissue creating erratic signals.

It's important to work together as a family to understand the signs and symptoms of AFib and to learn and manage the side effects of this disease.

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