Most episodes of atrial fibrillation aren't life-threatening, but an irregular heartbeat can cause complications like a heart attack or stroke. When you're prepared to spot and handle what's going on, you can help your loved one get the medical care they need faster, and ease your worries, too.
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.
What it is: When the heart beats irregularly, causing it to flutter, race, pound, or noticeably skip beats, that's an AFib episode.
The symptoms: Your loved one may be very tired and short of breath. They may feel faint, anxious, or confused. And they may notice that their heart is fluttering or pounding.
How to help: Call a doctor right away. AFib episodes rarely cause serious problems, but they'll need to get checked out with a physical exam.
If they're uncomfortable or their heart is beating rapidly, call 911 or go to an emergency room. Doctors may use medications or a device called a defibrillator to help their heart go back to a normal rhythm.
The symptoms: The main ones are discomfort, pain, pressure, or heaviness in the chest. A heart attack can also cause shortness of breath, nausea, confusion, and exhaustion.
Important: Women don't always have "typical" symptoms. They may vomit or feel tingling or pain in their back, shoulders, arm, or jaw.
How to help: If they have these warning signs, call 911 right away, even if you're not sure it's a heart attack. It's better to be wrong than to wait too long.
The 911 operator will stay on the phone with you until help arrives. Tell them that the person has AFib. They may give you specific instructions for while you wait.
The symptoms: Remember the initials F.A.S.T.
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call 911
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.