Atrial Fibrillation: Just How Common Is It?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), at least 2.7 million Americans are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a cardiac condition characterized by an irregular and/or rapid heartbeat that causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, weakness, and heart palpitations. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke, heart failure, and other life-threatening cardiac complications. Despite the prevalence of this condition, the AHA states that only 33 percent of those with atrial fibrillation believe it is a serious condition. However, it’s important to understand the symptoms and seek proper treatment to reduce associated health risks.

Understanding Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms

Many people who have atrial fibrillation are unaware of the condition because they have not experienced symptoms. In others, it manifests with heart palpitations, difficulty exercising and performing physical activity, general weakness, fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, confusion, and chest pain. These symptoms can come and go or persist until medical treatment is received. Some people develop permanent atrial fibrillation and must take heart medication for this chronic condition. Regular physical exams are the best way to detect this condition, but those with symptoms should seek medical attention right away.

Reducing Risks Through Effective Treatment

The specific treatment plan varies by patient depending on how long he or she has had symptoms, how much discomfort the symptoms cause, and whether other underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure are present. When the irregular heartbeat does not resolve on its own, the doctor can reset the heart to its normal speed and rhythm with a technique called cardioversion. This can be done with medications called antiarrhythmics or with an electric shock administered under anesthesia. Antiarrhythmics, cardiac channel blockers, or beta-blockers may be prescribed on an ongoing basis to control the heart’s rhythm. Anticoagulant medications can reduce the risk of blood clots that can cause a stroke. Surgery may be required when the condition does not respond to medication.

Lifestyle Changes to Further Reduce Risks 

In addition to medical treatments, lifestyle changes can help alleviate the symptoms of atrial fibrillation and reduce the risk for complications. Those concerned about their heart health should exercise each day; eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; avoid foods high in fat, sugar, and salt; manage blood pressure and cholesterol; lose weight if overweight; drink alcohol only in moderation, and visit their doctor for regular check-ups.

In the Ocala area, Marion Physician Associates P.A. provides advanced cardiology care services through the Marion Heart Center. Our experienced physicians offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation and other cardiac conditions. New patients can schedule an appointment using our convenient online form. Visit us today to receive the care you need. 

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