Mellanie True Hills felt as if her heart was jumping out of her chest. Patty Borkowski didn’t have any symptoms at all. How would you know if you have the most common irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver, which can cause the heart to overwork itself and eventually lead to congestive heart failure. In addition, the quivering allows blood to pool in the upper chambers and form clots. These clots, when launched into the body, can cause a stroke, atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke by five times. One-third of people with atrial fibrillation (afib) will have a stroke.
Detecting and treating afib is essential to avoiding a stroke.
Determining if you have afib means paying attention to your body. The atrial fibrillation patient resource StopAfib.org describes what afib feels like:
Different patients have different symptoms. Some patients describe afib as feeling like their heart has skipped a beat, followed by a thud and a speeding up or racing of the heart. Others describe it as an erratic heartbeat or strong heart palpitations. For still others, it feels like fluttering or butterflies in the chest, or worms that are dancing or crawling. Others have chest and throat pressure that mimics a heart attack, or constriction around the left bicep.
The first time, it’s really scary, and you wonder, “Is this a heart attack?” It may leave you dizzy, faint, light-headed, anxious, breathless, weak, or just plain exhausted. After it stops, you may feel drained.
For some people, afib doesn’t stop, and may continue on for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years.
For Mellanie True Hills, founder of StopAfib.org, her first afib incident started with a skipped heartbeat, followed by her heart racing. During her second episode, while she was out for a walk, within seconds her heart rate more than tripled on her heart rate monitor, reaching 300 beats per minute. She always became so dizzy, nauseous, and lightheaded during episodes that she feared passing out with each.
Occasionally she is asked, “How can you tell when your heart skips a beat or starts racing?” Her answer usually is, “It’s usually pretty obvious, especially when your heart literally feels as though it is going to leap out of your chest.”
Generally, afib is so overt that it’s hard to miss, though for some afib patients, the symptoms can be subtle.
Patty Borkowski’s afib was detected during a routine check-up. Like Patty, many people experience afib because of other underlying heart disease. Others have “Lone Afib” or atrial fibrillation without any other heart disease.
While many people experience afib as adrenalin-related, typically during the day and related to exercise, caffeine or other such triggers, others (more often men) experience vagal afib. During vagal afib the heart slows down and can be brought on by sleeping or eating and happens more often at night. Those with vagal afib can sometimes “run-off” episodes of afib by exercising.
Symptoms can vary widely from person to person. “With afib, we are all an ‘experiment of one.’ It is rare to find another afib patient who has the exact same combination of triggers and symptoms as you do,” says Mellanie.
Regular check-ups with your doctor and acting on any abnormal heart palpitations, racing heart, dizziness or extreme fatigue are important. In any case, following up symptoms with tests, such as an EKG or wearing an event monitor, will determine if afib is an issue.
Don’t ignore your symptoms. Get checked out and protect yourself from stroke!
The Patient’s Perspective is a series of recorded teleconferences and articles presented by the Embrace Your Heart Wellness Initiative and hosted by Eliz Greene. Each teleconference focuses on a specific
challenge facing women with heart disease. For more information visit www.EmbraceYourHeart.com
Eliz Greene survived a massive heart attack while seven-months pregnant with twins, struggled to lose the 80 pounds gained during her pregnancy, and searched for a way to hold on to the perspective and passion she found in her near-death experience. Drawing on her background as an adaptive movement specialist, Eliz developed simple strategies and tips to help other busy women be more active, eat better and manage your stress.