An irregular heartbeat can increase your risk of stroke or heart attack
Atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat, can lead to strokes, heart attacks and heart failure. Sufferers can have few problems from AFib, or they can experience heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and chest pain, especially if they already have underlying heart disease. You can live a relatively normal life with AFib, though, if you follow these tips:
Move your body. Regular physical activity can help you reduce the risk of complications from heart disease. But if you get too vigorous, you can aggravate AFib. Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. Even after getting your doctor’s approval, start with an easy workout, such as walking for 30 minutes every day or a a golf outing.
Stop smoking. Smokers have an increased risk of developing AFib. Smoking also increases the risk of stroke. But the minute you put down the cigarettes you start reaping benefits and raise the odds of living a healthier life. If you can’t quit cold turkey, try a smoking cessation aid—nicotine gum, patches or lozenges. Talk to your physician about medical treatment to stop smoking if all else fails.
Eat a heart-healthy diet. Include more plant-based foods, such as leafy greens and a variety of fruits. Switch from refined carbohydrates to whole grains. Control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels by eating a diet low in refined sugars, sodium and trans fats. Include good-for-you fats, like salmon, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Choose healthy sources of protein, such as eggs, white meat poultry, legumes and yogurt.
Go ahead, drink coffee. Previous studies suggested people with atrial fibrillation shouldn’t drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks. But recent studies show caffeine doesn’t appear to increase the risk of AFib episodes in people who already drink it. (One recent study, from Japan, found coffee and green tea actually lowered stroke risk.) So you can still have your morning cup of coffee.
Be careful with blood thinners. After an AFib diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners as part of your treatment to reduce your risk of stroke. These anticoagulant medications can interact with other medications, and some foods and supplements. If blood thinners are part of your treatment regimen, discuss with your doctor what you can eat and what you should avoid while taking these meds.