Published on Nov 22, 2017
Medically reviewed by Phil Mendys, Pharm D, FAHA, CPP
Atrial fibrillation (or AF) is a common form of atypical or irregular heartbeat (or arrhythmia). It is a serious heart condition affecting an estimated 300,000 plus people in Australia and 35,000 in New Zealand. It can lead to serious health issues such as stroke. AF tends to occur in people 65 years and older. Symptoms may include heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue. Some people have no symptoms at all.
Atrial fibrillation is a type of abnormal heart rhythm that results in a quivering or irregular heartbeat. In AF, the heart's upper chambers (atria) ‘quiver’ or contract irregularly and are not able to fully pump blood into the lower chambers (ventricles). This may make it hard for the heart to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the lungs and the rest of the body (heart failure) and may cause other serious problems such as blood clots in the heart that may break off to cause strokes. Even though AF is a serious condition, living a normal and active life with AF is possible especially if you follow some important points.
AF is usually suspected during a visit to a doctor or other health care professional (by listening to your heart and feeling your pulse).
If you’ve been diagnosed with AF, it’s important that you follow up regularly with your doctor. People with AF have a 5 times greater chance of getting a stroke than people without AF. Other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure often accompany AF and also affect the risk of stroke with AF. So it’s important that you and your doctor come up with an appropriate treatment plan that may lower your risk of stroke and other complications.
Doctors may treat AF with medications that control the heart rate and rhythm or medications that prevent blood clots, or with procedures such as cardiac ablation (getting rid of tissue in the heart that may be causing abnormal heart rhythm). Follow your doctor’s advice and take your medications exactly as prescribed. If you think you may have trouble with this, or are concerned about side effects, speak with your doctor right away.
You can also speak to your pharmacist about taking your medications properly. One of the challenges in managing AF and other health conditions is that some patients do not take their medication at all or they do not take them appropriately. Your pharmacist can help you manage AF in several ways—he or she can:
If you think you have experienced a medication adverse event, you should contact your doctor or pharmacist.
Your healthcare team may recommend lifestyle changes. Many people with AF are in their 60’s and older, and may have been living with health issues for a long time. While lifestyle changes can be difficult to take on, it may be easier to focus on the positive aspects—such as potentially feeling better and being better able to manage symptoms.
Here are some things you can do to manage AF and control symptoms:
Keep in mind that it’s important to understand AF and to know what to do to manage it. Take the time to talk with your healthcare providers and family and friends about it. If you are living with AF, it’s possible to live a normal active life—and what better way to do it than by staying healthy?
Phil Mendys is a Senior Director, U.S. Medical Affairs, Cardiovascular and Metabolic working as a Region Medical & Research Specialist for Pfizer.
Last reviewed 28/10/2019
-Stroke Foundation Australia - Atrial Fibrillation
-Stroke Foundation of New Zealand
-Heart Foundation (Australia) - Atrial fibrillation
-Heart Foundation (New Zealand) - Atrial Fibrillation
-Hearts 4 Hearts