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Men's Health 2021

Making lifestyle changes to help manage atrial fibrillation

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Janis Morrissey

Director of Health Promotion, Information and Training, Irish Heart Foundation

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation or AF is the name for a particular type of irregular heartbeat. An irregular heartbeat is often called an arrhythmia. With AF your heart beats in a disorganised and irregular way which can lead to a range of symptoms and potential complications.

What are the symptoms of AF? 

Some people have no symptoms of AF and are only diagnosed at a routine check- up with their doctor. Other people feel their irregular heartbeat straight away through a range of symptoms such as: 

  • Palpitations
  • Tiredness or weakness 
  • Difficulty exercising 
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting 
  • Chest pain 
  • Discomfort or difficulty breathing 
  • Shortness of breath

There are two main strategies to control your irregular heartbeat: rate control or rhythm control.

What are the treatments for AF?

There are several medicine and non-medicinal options available to help manage your AF. There are two main strategies to control your irregular heartbeat: rate control or rhythm control. Some people may also be prescribed anti-thrombotic medication known as blood thinners. Ask your doctor if you would like more information. 

Can I make any lifestyle changes that may help with my AF?

  • Be active. Check with your doctor or nurse what a safe and reasonable level of activity or exercise is before you start. 
  • Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice on what types of food to eat. You should do this especially if you take anticoagulant tablets by mouth, as some food and drink can affect the way your tablets work. 
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, like in coffee, alcohol and nicotine from smoking. These can trigger an irregular heart rate. 
  • Have your blood pressure and cholesterol monitored regularly and keep them under control. 
  • Reduce stress and find ways to manage or control any stress you cannot avoid. 

Go for regular check-ups. They will help you maintain your quality of life. 

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