Living with Atrial Fibrillation
A diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (AFib) means lifelong management of your condition. Although the impact it will have on your life depends on your specific prognosis, the good news is that patients with AFib can continue to lead full and healthy lives when their condition is properly managed.
Proper management for most people means a combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatment to manage AFib and lower the risk of heart failure or stroke, both of which are increased in patients with atrial fibrillation. There are many things that patients can do to improve heart health and decrease the risk of complications down the track.
Eat A Healthy Diet
A heart-healthy eating plan is key to managing symptoms and reducing risk of further heart disease. This means a diet focused on vegetables, fruits and whole-grains, along with fish; healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and avocados; and lean protein.
Foods that should be avoided include highly processed foods, those high in saturated and/or trans fats, salt and sugar. A healthier low-fat, low-salt diet will help reduce and control blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Other foods that you may wish to limit or avoid are caffeine and alcohol, both of which can trigger or exacerbate AFib symptoms.
Some foods also affect certain medications. Patients taking blood thinners need to watch their intake of vitamin K found in leafy greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, collard greens and broccoli. Those taking antiarrhythmic medication should avoid grapefruit.
Not only does smoking damage your lungs, but it also increases blood pressure and raises your risk for heart disease. If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor.
Get Regular Exercise
Many newly diagnosed patients avoid exercise because they think it will make their AFib worse, but regular exercise is one of the best things you can do. Staying active actually reduces AFib symptoms and your risk of stroke and heart disease, not to mention the other positive impacts on your health (such as controlling your weight, improving sleep quality and improving your overall well-being). While exercise is recommended, it is important to speak to your doctor about the right level of exercise for you to make sure it is safe.
Make it a goal to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If you are waking up often or snoring, see your doctor. Many AFib patients suffer from sleep apnea.
Manage Your Mental Health
Ongoing stress or anxiety is not only harmful to your general health, but it can also trigger AFib episodes. While getting enough exercise and sleep can help, some patients may need to take further steps to improve their mental well-being. Talking to friends or family or joining a support group can help, as can activities like meditation and yoga. If you are feeling intense stress or anxiety or if you are suffering from depression, it is important to seek professional help.
Understand Your Medication
Many people with AFib will need to take medication for the rest of their lives. It is important to understand what your medication does, possible side effects and how to take it correctly. Make sure you take your medication as prescribed. Don’t stop taking your medication without your doctor’s approval. It’s also important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking other medicines, including supplements, as they may interact with your medication or make your condition worse.
While an atrial fibrillation diagnosis can be scary or feel overwhelming, remember that you’re not alone. Millions of people with AFib live happy and healthy lives with proper management and the right care. If you are experiencing worrying symptoms or if you have already been diagnosed with AFib, we can help.
The team at Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists consists of North Louisiana’s leading experts in cardiovascular care. To schedule an appointment, please call our office at (318) 798-9400.