Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is when your heart beats irregularly and often more quickly than usual. It could be serious, but it can be treated, and your life may not turn upside-down as much as you think.
Myth: A diagnosis of AFib means a pacemaker or surgery.
Medications are typically the first things doctors try to treat atrial fibrillation. Various drugs can help control your heart's rhythm, slow your heart down, and help prevent blood clots that might lead to a stroke.
Myth: Getting AFib means you've done something wrong.
Atrial fibrillation can be caused by a lot of things, only some of which are under your control.
Common medical reasons for AFib include:
- Chronic lung disease
- Heart disease you were born with
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart valve problems
- High blood pressure
- A blood clot in your lung, called a pulmonary embolism
- Cardiomyopathy, a disease of your heart muscle
- Heart failure
Myth: You'll feel bad all the time.
It's not unusual to have symptoms like a pounding or fluttering heart (arrhythmia), low energy levels, dizziness, chest pain or pressure, and not being able to catch your breath. But you may have no symptoms at all.
Myth: When your heart flutters, it could stop beating soon.
Each episode of AFib isn't dangerous in the moment. What matters is how your heart fares over time.
Heart failure can happen when your heart beats too fast to let enough blood in each time it pumps. Your blood doesn't move as well as it should, and some parts of your body won't get enough oxygen. Fluid can build up in your lungs, too. You could feel drained and out of breath.
Both of these long-term problems are why it's important not to ignore AFib, even when you don't feel any symptoms.
Myth: You've got to power through.
Having atrial fibrillation can be stressful. But simply gritting your teeth and carrying on isn't going to help.
Myth: AFib and exercise don't mix.
Regular physical activity is a good thing. It seems to lower the odds of dying from heart-related causes. And people with atrial fibrillation who exercise tend to have fewer episodes of arrhythmia, are less likely to be hospitalized, and have a higher quality of life.
The activity strengthens your heart, making you less vulnerable to other problems in the future.
Myth: Sex isn't OK for someone with AFib.
Staying connected with your partner is important, especially when you're dealing with an illness. And for someone with AFib, sex is no more dangerous than mowing the lawn or going bowling.
When your doctor has given the go-ahead for these moderate exercise activities, even if you have a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to help treat your arrhythmia, having sex is fine, too.
Check with your doctor, though, if your heart beats faster than usual, you feel chest pain, or you've been shocked by your ICD.
Myth: AFib lasts forever.
Not all atrial fibrillation is the same. Although it's a progressive disease, people who have occasional episodes won't necessarily develop chronic AFib that doesn't go away. This is especially true if you're younger and have an otherwise healthy heart.