September is National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. According to the American Heart Association, at least 2.7 million Americans are living with Atrial Fibrillation (also called AF or AFib).
It’s the most common type of heart condition which causes an irregular heartbeat. Some describe it as a slight flutter, and some say they experience what feels like thunder in their chest. Some people with AFib never experience any symptoms at all and aren’t aware until a health care professional detects an irregular heartbeat during a routine visit or exam for another health condition. Since AFib significantly increases a person’s chance of stroke, it’s important to know if you’re at risk and seek treatment.
If you or anyone you know suspects an arrhythmia of the heart, it’s important to see a clinician for an electrocardiogram (ECG). And it’s especially important if you are among the high-risk population but even people who are living healthy and have no other medical conditions can develop AFib.
Are YOU at risk? According to the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS), the most common risk factors include:
- High blood pressure (long-standing uncontrolled)
- Family history
- Sleep apnea (While it isn’t proven to cause AFib, studies show a strong link between them, and treating sleep apnea often improves a person’s AFib)
- Other chronic conditions (hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and asthma)
- Older than 60 years of age – AFib in children isn’t common but it can happen
- Excessive alcohol use
- Lung disease
- Underlying heart condition
- Coronary artery disease
- Pericardial inflammation
- Prior heart attacks
- Heart failure
- Structural heart disease
- Prior open-heart surgery, untreated atrial flutter)
- Valve problems
- Acute coronary syndrome
- Wolff-Parkinson-White (WBW) syndrome
- Viral infections
- Exposure to caffeine
- Certain medications
Many with AFib will tell you it’s not without its challenges, and while there is no cure, treatment options and lifestyle changes can help manage the frequency and symptoms of AFib and reduce the risk of complications.
Check out this Atrial Fibrillation Risk Assessment from the HRS to evaluate your risk. Remember, in order to fully understand your risk factors, discuss your results with your clinician.