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Prevention of Afib/Atrial Fibrillation

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Atrial fibrillation or Afib is the most common heart rhythm problem seen by cardiologists and is increasing at epidemic levels. Afib occurs when the usual regular rhythm (called sinus rhythm) is replaced in the heart’s top chambers (the atria) with chaotic electrical signals resulting in an irregular and often fast heartbeat.

While Afib can occur without causing any symptoms, it can still be a hazardous health problem because it increases the risk of stroke by five times, heart failure by three times, and dementia and early death by two times.

What Causes Atrial Fibrillation? 

Afib is a complex problem with many different potential causes.  And not everyone has an underlying cause.  For some people, it’s genetic – or they have a reason that is not changeable, like a heart problem or other health issue that makes them more likely to have Afib. 

However, many people with Afib have a cause that, if not addressed, will make them much more likely to have more Afib in the future.

Here are the five most common treatable drivers of atrial fibrillation:

1.   Unhealthy weight

The most common treatable cause for Afib and the one that research shows can be very powerful in lowering the risk of recurrent Afib.  Research shows that if you are overweight, you can increase your chances of being free of Afib by up to 11 times, that’s 1,100 percent, by losing weight and getting more fit.  Not to mention all the other benefits of improving your health.

2.   Poorly controlled blood pressure

Nationwide, less than ½ of people with high blood pressure have it controlled.  This is unacceptable because we know exactly what works in lowering blood pressure.  And getting your blood pressure controlled not only improves your Afib, but it also reduces your risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease.

3.   Untreated sleep apnea

Experts estimate that 80% of people with sleep apnea don’t know it.  Sleep apnea is a common “hidden” cause of Afib in my practice.  If you snore or your partner says you quit breathing during sleep or you wake up feeling tired and unrested, talk to your doctor about being screened for sleep apnea.

4.   Sedentary lifestyle

Along with healthy weight loss, regular exercise and improved fitness are potent tools to lower your risk for recurrent Afib. However, there is a level of exercise that can actually increase your Afib.  Endurance level athletes that participate in triathlons and marathons are at increased risk for Afib, but for most of us, exercise is a powerful treatment for Afib.

5.   Excess alcohol consumption

We have long known that excess alcohol can cause Afib.  “Holiday Heart” is a phrase doctors sometimes use in reference to people who develop Afib over the holidays due to excess drinking.  More recent research suggests that the optimal amount of alcohol for those with Afib maybe none.  Even two drinks a day has been shown to increase the risk for Afib.  

What is the Best Treatment for Afib?

Treatment should start with reducing the most worrisome complication of Afib which is stroke. Those who suffer from Afib are five times more likely to experience a stroke. Afib causes nearly 20% of all strokes and when strokes occur due to Afib, they tend to be larger and have a higher death or permanent disability rate.  Blood thinner medications are often recommended for high-risk patients with Afib to prevent stroke. 

Besides stroke prevention, the medical treatment of Afib can include rhythm medications and ablation procedures. Unfortunately, these treatments are often not as effective as we’d like them to be. A recent large research study of the treatment of Afib called the CABANA trial noted that only about 50% of those treated with ablation and about 30% treated with medications were free of Afib after 4 years. However, while the treatment statistics for Afib are not particularly encouraging, research shows a comprehensive approach to Afib that includes weight loss, improving fitness, optimizing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers, minimizing alcohol and addressing sleep issues can dramatically improve the chances of reversing Afib.

The CARDIO-FIT trial showed that people with Afib who were overweight who lost 10% of their body weight and improved their fitness, increased the likelihood of being free from Afib after four years from 34% to 94% compared to those who relied on just medications and ablations and did not lose weight or get more fit..

Contact HealthspanMD™ in Phoenix, Arizona For Help With Reversing Afib.

If you have Afib and you’re looking to lower your risk of complications of Afib and get the best chance to reverse Afib, it’s time to talk to our team. HealthspanMD™ specializes in working with people like you to provide personalized, comprehensive, and connected care needed to help establish your best treatment plan to lower the risk of stroke, heart failure, dementia, and early death that often comes with Afib and also give you the best chance to reverse your Afib.  Call our offices in Phoenix, Arizona, for an appointment today. 

Dr. Robert Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE  has extensive experience in treating patients with Afib who want the best treatment to lower the risk of complications and get the best chance to reverse Afib. He established HealthspanMD™ to help patients live long, healthy, and vital lives. He brings over 25 years of experience at respected institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and the Banner Heart Institute. With over 50 peer-reviewed publications and over 100 delivered educational presentations, he continues to be an active part of advancing heart  health and providing leading-edge care for his patients.

Old man holding his left side of chest