AFib Myths and Facts

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.

Taking steps to lead a healthier lifestyle -- quitting cigarettes, losing weight, or controlling blood sugar, for example -- can also help.

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:

But at least 1 in 10 people with AFib have no other heart problems. Less common causes are high thyroid hormone levels and a viral infection.

It's also possible for AFib to stem from too much alcohol or caffeine, certain drugs, something in your genes, and imbalances in your electrolytes, among other things.

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.

Irregular beats can let blood pool where it shouldn't, which can lead to clotting. These clots can block blood supply to the brain, causing a stroke.

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.

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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.

Stress can make the condition worse by speeding up your heart rate. Strong emotions like anger, fear, and anxiety could have the same effect.

So it's important to take care of yourself. Find something that gets your mind off your worries and puts you in a good mood. Yoga, music, and time management strategies might ease some tension.

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 22, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Atrial Fibrillation (Afib): Management and Treatment," "Atrial Fibrillation (Afib)."

American Heart Association: "Why Atrial Fibrillation (AF or AFib) Matters."

CardioSmart: "Living With AFib: Experts and Patients Share 10 Tips," "I Have Atrial Fibrillation: How Active Can I Be?"

Cedars-Sinai: "Atrial Fibrillation," "Electrophysiology Program Patient Guide: Frequently Asked Questions."

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