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Myths and Facts About Heart Failure and AFib

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 07, 2021

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.

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: Heart failure is the same as a heart attack.

Fact: During a heart attack, the blood supply to part of your heart muscle is cut off. It's often brought on by a buildup of plaque in your arteries or by a blood clot. With heart failure, your heart isn't pumping as much blood as your body needs.

A heart attack can be one of the causes of heart failure, but they're not the same thing.

Myth: You should take it easy if you have heart failure.

Fact: When you find out that you have heart failure, you might be afraid to do too much. But regular movement is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about how to ease into a good exercise plan. Yes, it's key that you don't do too much. But the right exercise plan will strengthen your heart muscles, help blood flow, and ease symptoms.

Myth: Only older people get heart failure.

Fact: Heart failure is more common in people over 65, but children and younger adults can get it. The symptoms and treatment can vary depending on your age.

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.

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 may cause the blood in one of your heart's chambers to not move as well as it should, which can lead to a blood clot. Blood clots can leave your heart and travel to other parts of your body.

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.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Warning Signs of Heart Failure."

Mayo Clinic: "Heart Failure."

Cedars-Sinai: "Heart Failure," "Atrial Fibrillation or Atrial Flutter," "Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, Heart Failure—What’s the Difference?"

AFib Matters: "Living With Atrial Fibrillation."

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

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Heart Failure."

Penn Medicine: "5 Scary Myths About Heart Failure."

WVU Medicine: "Heart Failure: 7 Myths and Facts That May Surprise You."

HeartFailureMatters.org: "Myths and Facts About Heart Failure."

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