Myths and Facts About Heart Failure and AFib

There are lots of myths about both heart failure and atrial fibrillation (AFib). Even their names may confuse you. But you can treat and manage either heart failure or AFib and still enjoy a full life.

Myth: Heart failure means my heart doesn't work anymore. Soon, it will stop beating.

Fact: Your heart is a muscle. Heart failure means that the muscle has gotten too weak or stiff to pump blood in and out of your heart the way it should. But your heart won't suddenly stop.

Myth: Heart failure can't be treated.

Fact: You can treat heart failure. Medication can make your heart stronger, and you can take drugs or change your diet so fluid doesn't build up in your body. Surgery can help blood go around clogged arteries and get to your heart. And your doctor can replace heart valves that cause problems. Implants and heart pumps can make your heart beat stronger or stay in a regular rhythm.

Myth: You can't really tell if you have heart failure.

Fact: A few early signs are easy to spot. You may feel tired for no reason. Or you might feel out of breath or cough or wheeze when you lie down. Fluid buildup may lead to weight gain or make your lower legs, feet, or ankles swell. You also may feel confused or foggy as well as nauseous from time to time. If you notice these signs, see your doctor right away.

Myth: You can't prevent heart failure.

Fact: You can lower your chances of heart failure.

  • If you have certain health conditions that can affect your heart, get them under control. These include diabetes, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and obesity.
  • Cut back on alcohol, and don't smoke.
  • Stay active and at a healthy weight.
  • If you have a lot of stress, find ways to deal with it. Or talk with your doctor about things you can do.

Myth: You can easily feel the irregular heartbeat caused by atrial fibrillation (AFib).

Fact: Some people with AFib -- a quivering or uneven heartbeat -- have no symptoms or they're not very noticeable. You may feel your heart race or flutter, or you might feel dizzy or lightheaded. Some people also feel short of breath, anxious, or more tired than usual. A heart test called an electrocardiogram (EKG) can help your doctor know if you have it.

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Myth: If you have AFib, you'll have to give up that morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Fact: One to three cups of coffee or tea a day should be fine. Don't load your coffee with sugar or creamy toppings, though. Those make it harder to control your weight, and obesity can make AFib worse.

Myth: If you have AFib, you shouldn't have sex or drive a car.

Fact: Sex is actually healthy for both men and women with AFib. It can ease stress. It's also a heart-healthy form of exercise, which is good for people who have AFib.

You also can drive a car if you don't get faint or have dizzy spells. Keep track of how you feel so you can talk to your doctor about driving. If you plan to take a trip by car, make sure your AFib is under control. And take your meds with you. But talk to your doctor before making a long drive in extreme temperatures or at high altitudes like in the mountains.

Myth: AFib's biggest danger is a heart attack.

Fact: AFib is a problem with your heart's valves. They don't push blood through the four chambers of your heart as well as they should. Blood can back up in your heart and cause clots.

If a clot blocks an artery in your brain, you can have a stroke when blood flow to part of your brain is cut off. If you have AFib, you can lower your chances of having one with medicine, regular exercise, diet, and a healthy lifestyle.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 17, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association.

Mayo Clinic: "Heart Failure."

Cedars-Sinai: "Heart Failure" and "Atrial Fibrillation or Atrial Flutter."

AFib Matters: "Living With Atrial Fibrillation."

Cleveland Clinic: "Caffeine Not a Trigger for Atrial Fibrillation."

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