Do you need treatment?
AFib generally does not go away. However, not everyone who has AFib needs treatment (at least not right away) and not all AFib treatments are right for every patient. That’s why it’s so important to discuss your AFib with your doctor and nurse and decide together what is best for YOU. This is called Shared Decision Making. Your health care team can explain the various treatment choices. You should have the opportunity to share what is important to you. Together you and your doctor and nurse can make a plan.
Treatments for AFib include medications, surgery and other, non-surgical procedures. Your treatment will depend on several factors, including:
- Your risk factors for stroke (do you know your risk factors?)
- Your ability to tolerate specific treatments (for example, medication side effects or surgical procedures)
- The chance for drug interactions depending on other medications you may take
- Your overall health
- Whether you have — or are at risk for — heart disease
What are the goals of treatment?
The two top priorities of AFib treatment are:
- to lower your risk of having a stroke by preventing blood clots
- to treat any underlying conditions that may cause AFib.
Depending on your symptoms, severity, and how AFib affects your quality of life, your health care team may also recommend treatments to control your heart rate or restore regular heart rhythm.
Charts such as this, which show the annual stroke risk of a hypothetical AFib patient, help you evaluate the benefits and harms of potential treatments (in this case, anticoagulant medicines). The CHA2DS2-VASc score estimates patients’ risk of stroke and HEMORR2HAGES scores the risk of bleeding while taking anticoagulants. Higher numbers represent higher risk.
Two patients with the same risk factor for stroke might make different decisions about whether to take anticoagulants based on concerns about the risk of bleeding. This is a good example of where shared decision making makes sense.
Even if you have AFib, it’s never too late to make lifestyle changes that will lower your risk for stroke and improve your overall quality of life.
Physical activity. Physical activity has many benefits including:
- Improving heart and lung functioning
- Maintaining healthy weight
- Reducing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis
Talk to your nurse or doctor before beginning a physical activity program if:
- You haven’t been active recently
- You have health problems, such as high blood pressure
- You’re pregnant
- You’re over 60
Quit smoking. Smoking is the #1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. It causes numerous illnesses, including coronary heart disease and stroke. If you smoke, rest assured: it’s never too late to quit.
TIP: Quitting smoking is the single most important step you can take to improve the length and quality of your life
Manage stress. Chronic stress takes its toll on your body and may cause significant health problems, including heart disease.
Sudden emotional stress, especially anger, can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias and even sudden death—especially in people who already have heart disease
Control your blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure greater than 120 is a risk factor for stroke. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, managing stress and not smoking will help you manage your blood pressure and lower your risk of stroke or complicated AFib.
For tips on controlling your blood pressure