A quivery heartbeat or flutter in your chest: 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 by itself usually isn't deadly.
Some episodes of AFib can come and go on their own. Others may need treatment to get your heart back to a normal rate and rhythm. Sometimes, you may be able to take steps to help ease symptoms or stop an episode when it starts.
Talk to your doctor about what's safe and makes sense for you.
Deep, Mindful Breathing
This can help you relax and calm your nerves when your heart is racing.
When your heart is beating fast, you feel dizzy, or you have other symptoms, this simple trick may help:
Face in Cold Water
You may hear this called the diving reflex. When you dunk your face into icy water, it also stimulates your vagus nerve, and your body responds by lowering your heart rate.
Scientists think the simple movements and deep, steady breathing calm the nervous system. It may work during an episode, too.
To get started with yoga, "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 sit 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.
If you're an athlete, you might stop an AFib episode by exercising through it. A 2002 case study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a 45-year old athlete stopped his symptoms by working out. He used an elliptical machine or a cross country ski machine.
Definitely check with your doctor before trying this method.
Through this therapy, you'll learn how to control body functions such as your heart rate.
The therapist puts sensors on your fingertips or earlobes. These sensors are hooked up to a computer so you can see your heart rate in real time and how it responds to different relaxation techniques. You could try focused breathing or visualization, for example, to see if that helps slow your heart rate.
Call Your Doctor
After the episode passes, let your doctor know. They may want run tests to make sure the symptoms were caused by AFib, and not another condition.
If it's happening a lot, you may need to change your treatment.
Prevent AFib Attacks
Keep your heart healthy. Take any medicines your doctor prescribed as directed. Eat well -- a diet low in salt and solid fats, and high in fruits, veggies, and whole grains -- and follow an active lifestyle. Don't smoke.
You can lead a normal life when you have 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.