A quivery heartbeat and a flutter in your chest are two telltale signs you could be in atrial fibrillation, or AFib. That means your heart is beating out of sync. As weird or scary as an episode may feel, AFib isn't usually deadly by itself.
There are types of AFib, some can come and go on their own while others require treatment with medications or procedures. You may be able to take some steps to help ease symptoms when they start, such as a combination of prescribed medication and deep breathing.
But if you believe you have AFib, you should see a medical provider as soon as possible for treatment.AFib can become persistent. At that point, you may need more complex treatments.
Talk to your doctor about what's safe and makes sense for you.
Atrial Fibrillation: When to Call 911
With some symptoms, you might not be able to call for emergency help when you need it. If you have these symptoms, or notice someone else with these signs, call 911 right away.
Symptoms of a heart attack. This could include pain, pressure, or discomfort in the middle of your chest or upper belly area. You may also notice fullness, squeezing, heartburn, other types of indigestion, or a pain running through your left arm. If you notice these symptoms, call 911. You could be having a heart attack.
Females may have other, extra signs of a heart attack like:
- Shoulder, jaw, or back pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling more tired than normal
- Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms of a stroke. The sooner you act when you have stroke symptoms, the better. People who are having a stroke often show signs like:
- Dizziness, balance issues, or problems walking
- A headache for no reason
- Vision issues in one or both eyes
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
- Trouble talking or understanding other people
Symptoms of cardiac arrest. These may show up an hour before someone goes into cardiac arrest. But other times, no symptoms will happen and you will just faint. If you do have symptoms, they might include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Bleeding. There are different signs of bleeding in your digestive system, urinary tract, or brain. If you have AFib, you might have to take certain medications that thin your blood. But if you take too much, it can cause harmful bleeding. Symptoms of this include:
- Memory loss
- A hard time moving your arms or legs
- Intense pain in your head or stomach
- Severe changes in your vision
- Bright red blood in your poop, pee, or vomit
If you think you might have signs of AFib or if you have changes in your heartbeat, trouble with exercise, or you feel more tired than usual, see your doctor. They may refer you to a heart specialist who can help diagnose and treat AFib.
Deep, Mindful Breathing
This can help you relax and calm your nerves when your heart is racing.
- Sit quietly and close your eyes.
- Put one hand on your belly.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, feeling your stomach stretch out.
- Breathe out slowly through your mouth and repeat.
The goal is to exhale for longer than it took to inhale. While this may help slow your heartbeat, deep breathing will not stop AFib on its own.
People with AFib who do yoga regularly may feel better and have lower heart rate and blood pressure levels. Other studies show doing yoga may lead to fewer episodes of sudden AFib.
Scientists think the simple movements and deep, steady breathing calm the nervous system and help you regain control of your heart rate.
To get started with yoga, the "child's pose" is simple and relaxing.
- Get on your hands and knees on the floor.
- Hold your back straight in a "tabletop" position.
- Slowly move your hips back and extend your arms, keeping your hands planted.
- Tuck your tailbone to position your butt on your heels. You may need to spread your knees farther apart to sink back enough.
- Keep breathing as you feel the stretch through your arms and back.
Try a class if your doctor says it's OK. Studios often have no- or low-cost introductory offers for new students. Make sure it's a beginner-friendly class and a gentle style of yoga. Get there early and let the teacher know about your AFib.
Working out regularly may help ease your AFib symptoms. Exercise can also help you keep your weight under control and lower your blood How to Stop an AFib Episodepressure. Both things help ease the load on your heart and lower your AFib risk. Talk to your doctor to see if this is a good option for you.
Call Your Doctor
After the episode passes, let your doctor know. Most episodes can be managed at home, but they may want to run tests to make sure AFib caused the symptoms and not another condition.
If your episode goes on for 24-48 hours without a break, you should contact your doctor right away.
If your AFib episodes continue to happen frequently, you may need to change your treatment.
Prevent AFib Attacks
Fewer AFib episodes will help prevent blood clots and lower your chance of a stroke and heart failure.
Avoid triggers, such as too much caffeine (perhaps from an energy drink), excessive alcohol, a lot of stress, and not enough sleep.
Keep your heart healthy. Take the medicines prescribed by your doctor as directed. Eat well – a diet low in salt and solid fat, and high in fruits, veggies, and whole grains – and follow an active lifestyle. Don't smoke.
You can lead a normal life despite having AFib. Go ahead and work out, play sports, travel, and have sex, as long as you clear it with your doctor first.
You may need to be more careful with certain activities though. Most people with AFib can drive, for example. But if you have symptoms, such as feeling dizzy or lightheaded, don't get behind the wheel, or pull over right away.
How to Help Someone Having an AFib Attack
To get started, make a list of their health conditions and the medications they take. That way, you can share the list with medical professionals during any emergency. If your loved one takes blood thinners, they should wear a medical bracelet or tag saying so.
Your loved one may be very tired and short of breath. They may faint or feel anxious and confused. And they may notice that their heart is fluttering or pounding.
How to help: Call a doctor or 911. AFib episodes rarely cause serious problems, but they need to get checked out.
Recognize AFib vs. Stroke
A stroke can happen when a blood clot travels to the brain. It's the biggest risk linked to AFib. People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke than others.
To remember the symptoms, use the initials F.A.S.T.:
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call 911
A stroke can also bring on a severe headache, vision problems, dizziness, confusion, trouble speaking, or numbness or weakness on one side of the body.
How to help: Call 911. Don't wait to see if the symptoms go away on their own. The sooner they get medical treatment, the better.
Try to help them lie down. Don't give them aspirin. Pay close attention to their symptoms until help arrives.
To prevent a stroke:
Treat your AFib. Because it boosts your risk of stroke, a good way to avoid a stroke is to treat AFib.
Treat high blood pressure. Keeping a good watch on your blood pressure is always smart. If it’s high, treatment can greatly lessen your stroke risk.
Maintain a healthy weight. High blood pressure and diabetes are related to obesity. If you are overweight, you can lower your stroke risk by losing even a little weight.
Get more exercise. If you’re more active, it can help you lose weight and lower your stroke risk. Exercise can also help lower your blood pressure, which also puts you at less risk for stroke.
Control alcohol. It’s OK to have an alcoholic drink from time to time. But if you go over two drinks per day, your risk of stroke goes up a lot. To avoid this risk, it’s best to only have one drink max per day (and keep it at a reasonable portion size) and, when possible, choose red wine as your beverage. (Some studies find that this might help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.)