Coping With Atrial Fibrillation

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For the large majority of people, the hardest part of coping with atrial fibrillation (AFib) comes in the weeks or months after the diagnosis when they are in the midst of making the tough decisions about the right treatment approach and, then, starting that plan. However, for most, everything eventually stabilizes—and very often after a surprisingly brief period of time. Successful treatment is found that both gets rid of symptoms and is well tolerated.

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Emotional

It can be a shock to discover you or your loved one has atrial fibrillation. The condition can develop suddenly or it might only be discovered on a routine health exam. It is natural to feel fear, anger, confusion, and sadness. If you have other conditions, this can be one more blow that may not be easy to absorb.

Stress and anxiety can increase your AFib symptoms. If you feel this way often, look into stress-management tactics. These include quick stress relievers like going for a brisk walk or using breathing techniques, as well as those that reduce stress over time, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, and healthy eating.

Denial and avoidance are also natural reactions to unpleasant news. The danger is that this can lead to not complying with the recommended treatment for the condition. Stick with the therapy program you and your healthcare provider have arrived upon to reduce your risk of stroke. Taking your medications as prescribed—especially your anticoagulant medicine—is critical.

If you or your loved one are having problems with a prescribed anticoagulant medication, don't wait to talk to your practitioner about it. While controlling symptoms is very important, what’s especially so is preventing a stroke. Getting anticoagulation therapy right is critical—and something that must be done together with a healthcare provider.

Twenty percent of people with permanent atrial fibrillation have high levels of depression, according to one study. If you find that you are sad most of the time or have stopped doing activities you once enjoyed, talk to your healthcare provider. There are good options for treatment with talk therapy or medication.

Physical

The fact that atrial fibrillation has occurred may suggest that it is important for you or your loved one to make some serious lifestyle changes. Not smoking, eating a healthy diet, losing weight, and getting plenty of exercise (in addition to taking any necessary medications to control diabetes, hypertension or cholesterol) may be crucial not only for reducing atrial fibrillation, but helping prevent other, more dangerous cardiovascular diseases.

Researchers have learned that, in many more instances than previously thought, atrial fibrillation is a lifestyle disease—a disorder that results from being sedentary and becoming overweight. Most healthcare providers have not absorbed this information yet, but the evidence looks pretty strong.

Addressing these concerns not only helps manage atrial fibrillation, but it improves your overall health and reduces your risk of further cardiovascular problems.

This kind of lifestyle advice, of course, is nothing new. But many consider their atrial fibrillation diagnosis a "wake-up call" to the fact that certain lifestyle choices pose more than theoretical risk.

Because it’s not too late to do something about it, now may be a good time to take stock and reevaluate your priorities and choices, and to make the changes that will lead to better health. There is no better time to take control than right now.

Social

Lifestyle changes are extremely difficult for individuals to do by themselves. If making lifestyle changes becomes a household endeavor, the chances of success will be much, much higher—and everyone will reap the rewards of better health.

If you are living solo or your loved ones are resistant to join with you, reach out to friends or join in a program at a local medical center, fitness center, or weight management program so you get the social support you need to make lifestyle changes.

Talk to your friends and family about what atrial fibrillation means and the changes you need to make to live well. Ask for their support.

The American Heart Association's MyAFibExperience.org website has an online community forum and patient education resources. These include helpful tools for managing your condition and setting goals. The Atrial Fibrillation Association has a 24-hour helpline and other resources as well.

Practical

Now that your treatment is settled on, this is a good time for you to take stock. You have a cardiac arrhythmia that is itself a problem—but that problem is being addressed. Now, ask yourself: What information do you have about your health that you didn't have before your diagnosis?

You probably now know a lot more about the state of your heart and your cardiovascular system, for example. Evaluating such things is routine in patients who are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Use that information.

It may be that your atrial fibrillation has some now-identified underlying cause. Whether that underlying cause is reversible or is a chronic condition, you will need to make sure you and your healthcare provider have fully addressed it, that your medications (if any) have been optimized, and that you have adjusted your lifestyle and habits to minimize the risk of future problems.

Stroke is a complication of atrial fibrillation. Be alert to possible signs of a stroke, and if you become even slightly suspicious that a stroke may be happening, get to a medical facility immediately. If it is a stroke, time is critical, and minutes can make a huge difference in the odds of recovering with minimal disability. Remember FAST—if you see face drooping, arm weakness, or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 911.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I exercise if I have atrial fibrillation?

    Yes—in fact, exercise has significant benefits for atrial fibrillation. However, it’s important to avoid overexertion; gentle physical activity is best. Check with your healthcare provider to find a routine that will help maintain your heart health while keeping atrial fibrillation in check.

  • What types of exercise are safe with atrial fibrillation?

    Walking and yoga are both great options for physical activity with Afib. Check with your healthcare provider to find a routine that works for your individual needs.

  • What foods should I avoid with atrial fibrillation?

    Foods that might trigger Afib episodes include:

    • Caffeine
    • Sugar
    • Refined or processed carbohydrates
    • Tyramine-containing foods (such as red wine, aged cheese, and cured meats)
    • Alcohol
    • Foods high in sodium (salt)
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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Akella K, Kanuri SH, Murtaza G, et al. Impact of yoga on cardiac autonomic function and arrhythmias. J Atr Fibrillation. 2020;13(1):2408. doi:10.4022/jafib.2408

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Managing Your atrial fibrillation: What to eat (and avoid). Published March 7, 2019.

  4. Jacob LH, Carron DB. Atrial fibrillation precipitated by tyramine containing foods. Br Heart J. 1987 Feb;57(2):205-6. doi:10.1136/hrt.57.2.205 

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