What is AFib vs Other Heart Arrhythmias?

September is AFib Awareness Month, and at Fitbit, we’re helping you to learn more through content that focuses on all things heart health throughout the month. Click here for more blog posts in the series.

An arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat. This happens when electrical impulses that control the heart’s rhythm fire irregularly, causing the heart to beat too fast, too slowly or erratically. 

One particular arrhythmia you may have heard of is atrial fibrillation (AFib). Millions of people are living with AFib. 

AFib is an irregular or quivering heartbeat that keeps the heart’s upper chambers from emptying completely. This allows blood to pool and clot. If a blood clot enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery serving the brain, this leads to stroke. 

What should someone do if they get a positive reading?

Seek medical treatment if you suspect that you may have atrial fibrillation. Often, people with AFib report feeling their heart “skip a beat” or “bang against their chest” during mild exertion, such as carrying items up a flight of stairs. Others with AFib recount feeling “nauseated, light-headed and weak,” with a “really fast heartbeat.” 

But other people with AFib don’t have any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to have regular physical exams, so that a health care provider can check your heart health. A smartwatch or tracker can offer you a glimpse into your heart rate on a day-to-day basis.

If you’re diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, work with your health care provider to determine your treatment plan. Your health care provider may treat the direct cause of your AFib (such as hyperthyroidism), or they may suggest ways to regulate your heart’s rhythm. Often, health care providers recommend medications called blood thinners to lessen stroke risk for AFib patients.

Who is at risk of AFib?

Anyone can develop atrial fibrillation (AFib), which is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke. Still, several factors place some people at higher risk.

What may increase that risk?

Advanced age: The number of adults developing AFib increases significantly with age. 

High blood pressure: Long-standing, uncontrolled blood pressure can increase your risk for AFib.

Underlying heart disease: Anyone with heart disease or a history of heart attack is at greater risk. AFib is also the most common complication after heart surgery.

Excessive alcohol use: Binge drinking may put you at higher risk for AFib.

Family history: Having a family member with a history of AFib increases your chances of being diagnosed. 

Sleep apnea: Studies show a strong link between obstructive sleep apnea and AFib.

Athletic conditioning: AFib can affect athletes, particularly endurance athletes who undergo extreme training. This isn’t a concern for most people, who benefit greatly from moderate exercise.

Other chronic conditions: Others at higher risk for AFib include those with thyroid problems, diabetes and asthma.

Triggers

For those with AFib, periods of extreme stress or fatigue can trigger episodes of atrial fibrillation. Energy drinks, alcohol use or poor sleep can also be triggers.

What can users do to lessen their risk?

Here are some things you can do to help prevent AFib:

• Get regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity

• Eat a heart-healthy diet

• Manage high blood pressure

• Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine

• Don’t smoke

• Control cholesterol

• Maintain a healthy weight

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