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Working When You Have AFib

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 09, 2021

If you’re living with atrial fibrillation (AFib), you may wonder if it will affect your job as you manage your symptoms. Many people with AFib can continue working. But at the start of AFib symptoms, you may need some time off to adjust to your new prescriptions and for medical appointments.

When you decide to come back to work, depending on the type of job you do, there may be some stress. AFib can increase your risk of having a stroke or other health problems. It’s best to discuss it with your cardiologist or health care team to see if you have to make any changes to your daily routine. Inform your boss and co-workers, too. This can help you know what to expect, especially if you have a high-stress job.

Whether it’s a desk job or something that requires you to be on your feet all day, you may need to make changes or keep some things in mind. This is so you can avoid anything that can cause an attack at work.

Getting Back to Work

You may not be able to work as much as you did before your AFib diagnosis. To bring your irregular heartbeat back to a normal rhythm, it’s important to take your medications as prescribed and avoid anything that may cause too much stress.

Work hours. When you’re living with AFib, putting in many hours at work could be a source of stress. Experts suggest you plan your work projects and meetings ahead of time. This way, you don’t have the last-minute stress of doing a lot of things at the same time.

Space out things on your to-do list, like emails, calls, or client responsibilities, and focus on trying to do one thing at a time. This may help you lower your stress and avoid an AFib episode. See if a flexible schedule is possible or if working from home is an option when you need it.

Breaks. After an AFib episode, it’s important take 30- to 60-minute breaks each day so you can lower your stress.

If your job involves sitting at a desk, step away from your screen to relax. If you do physical work, try to find time during the day to sit and relax. This helps to not put too much stress on your heart. You may have to speak to your manager or co-workers about why the breaks are necessary for your health.

Expectations. As you get used to living and working with AFib, you may have to manage expectations at work. This may include talking honestly about the work you’re able to do with your colleagues and your supervisor. They may also offer you emotional support, which may help you manage your condition better at work.

If you’re unable to manage your stress, it might be time to switch to a more doable job as you manage your AFib.

How to Manage Stress

When you have AFib, the abnormal heartbeats may cause your blood to pool and create blood clots in your heart. If the clot breaks off and travels to your brain, you may be at risk for a stroke.

To avoid this, it’s important to manage your AFib symptoms, take your meds as directed, and keep your stress low at work. If you’re in a stressful situation at work, there are things you can do to stay calm.

You can:

  • Count from 1 to 10 before you speak
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself
  • Step away and go for a walk
  • Ask for more time for a project

When to Get Help

If you do have AFib symptoms at work, you may not need emergency medical attention, but it’s important to tell or see your doctor as soon as possible if:

  • AFib symptoms like heart palpitations or shortness of breath get worse
  • AFib lasts over 24 hours
  • You have frequent AFib episodes

You may need to call 911 or get emergency medical attention if you:

  • Have signs of a stroke like weakness, numbness, or trouble speaking
  • Feel like you’re about to pass out
  • Are lightheaded
  • Have chest pain
  • Feel clammy and have cold sweat
  • Bleed or overdose from medications

Sick Leave and Disability

If you need time off for medical care, know your rights as an employee. In most companies, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a “serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform” if you:

  • Have worked at your company for at least 12 months or 1,250 hours in the past year
  • Work for a company that has 50 or more employees within 75 miles

Your company will also have to continue paying for health insurance and benefits if those are part of your compensation. If you need extended time off, check with your company’s human resources team and talk about your options.

While most people with AFib can manage it with proper medications and regular visits with doctors, it may cause long-term or permanent disabilities in some. If AFib symptoms are a constant problem, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits, a type of government program that gives financial help if you’re not able to work because of a serious health condition.

To qualify, your AFib symptoms have to be “uncontrolled” despite medical treatment. You also need to show proof that you’ve been affected by severe AFib symptoms for at least a year.

To successfully claim benefits, you need to submit an application along with evidence like:

  • Detailed medical history
  • Physical exam that shows 3 months of observations and treatment
  • Doctor’s note on all testing, procedures, and medications

If you’re not sure how to handle the claim, you can hire a disability lawyer. They can review your case to see if you have a claim and help you get all the necessary documents together.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “AFib, Work Stress and Assessing your Priorities,” “What does my workplace need to know about my condition?” “Why Atrial Fibrillation (AF or AFib) Matters.”

Mayo Clinic: “Atrial Fibrillation.”

UNC Healthcare: “Living With Atrial Fibrillation.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Atrial Fibrillation (Afib).”

U.S. Department of Labor: “Family and Medical Leave (FMLA),” “Family and Medical Leave Act.”

Disabilitybenefitscenter.org: “How the Blue Book Can Help with Atrial Fibrillation SSD Claim.”

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