Atrial fibrillation: what does it mean for women?

January 01, 2019

Atrial fibrillation, commonly known as “AFib”, refers to a heart rhythm disorder marked by irregular heart rhythm. Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, or dizzy spells. However, many people who have AFib will be asymptomatic, and, in fact, up to one third of women with AFib don’t feel symptoms.

For patients who are asymptomatic, says K. Shahid Baig, MD, a cardiac arrhythmia specialist with Kettering Physician Network Heart & Vascular, sometimes the first presentation of AFib can be a stroke. In women, the risk for AFib increases after age 60, and prevalence continues to increase between the ages of 65 and 85. AFib can be detected at regular well visits and heart screenings, so consistent check-ups are extremely important, especially after the age of 60.

Dr. Baig emphasizes that the condition itself is not life-threatening. However, it can lead to stroke or congestive heart failure, so it’s extremely important to get treatment.

Treatment of AFib

“Treatment of atrial fibrillation is based upon symptoms,” Dr. Baig says. “In treatment approach, we consider if the patient has lifestyle-limiting symptoms.” Treatments fall into three categories:

Lifestyle changes

  • Medications
  • Surgical options

Lifestyle changes include incorporating regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and controlling diabetes and blood pressure. AFib is also associated with obesity and sleep apnea, so weight management is important. These lifestyle behaviors are important for both prevention and successful treatment of AFib.

A family doctor or heart specialist can recommend blood thinners, rate control, or rhythm control medicines. If needed, surgical options can also be explored, however, surgery is not always necessary, and many patients are successful with simply managing their symptoms.

Living with AFib

According to the National Stroke Association, 60-80% of strokes in those with AFib can be prevented. Because strokes can be fatal or life-altering, managing AFib and taking extra effort to stay healthy is extremely important.

Part of managing AFib can be recognizing and avoiding triggers. Triggers will vary by individual, however, some of the most common ones include hormonal fluctuations in women, certain over-the-counter medicines, and alcohol or caffeine.

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