Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that could affect just about anyone but is especially common in seniors. Many residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere are dealing with atrial fibrillation, which is the most common type of heart irregularity, and in some cases can lead to stroke, heart attack, and a need for palliative care.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice work with many clients who are dealing with different degrees of atrial fibrillation. It can be a scary experience if you’re unfamiliar with it, but there are also some things people can do to reduce the risk of it.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, atrial fibrillation is not technically considered life-threatening by itself but is related to a greater risk of death and a decline in overall quality of life.
There’s also more research being done into atrial fibrillation, including its effects on people’s bodies, and also various risk factors, possible prevention strategies, and possible prescription drug treatments.
Learning more about this information and current resources can be useful for people who already have atrial fibrillation or are worried about developing in the future.
The Mayo Clinic, for instance, recommends living a heart-healthy lifestyle as a way to reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation. This approach can include more physical activity, cutting out smoking, reducing alcohol and caffeine, and being cautious with over-the-counter medicines, especially ones that might act as stimulants and speed up the heart.
People with existing heart disease and untreated blood pressure are at higher risk, as well as other chronic conditions that can affect the heart such as sleep apnea, diabetes, and kidney disease. A family history of heart disease also might play a part.
One of the more significant risks is stress: too much of it can affect the heart, especially if it’s accompanied by excess caffeine or alcohol. Sudden shocks to the body, such as higher-than-usual stress moments, are also known to not only trigger atrial fibrillation but other cardiac events.
Effects of age
The older you are, the higher your risk of developing atrial fibrillation. About 10 percent of those age 80 and over have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, compared to less than 2 percent for ages 50-59.
WebMD has reported that people with this condition are more prone to walking problems, such as poor balance, poor strength, and slower speed. Certainly, all of these are common with the aging process, but the findings of a study showed that atrial fibrillation actually seemed to speed up this physical decline, and the result of those with this heart condition was the equivalent to four years of aging.
While there’s not a direct link between declining physical health and atrial fibrillation, there does seem to be a general association. At the same time, there are conditions that can increase both atrial fibrillation and general aging-related performance, such as muscle loss, obesity, and general inflammation.
The data came from a study of more than 2,700 people who were evaluated every four years starting at age 70. All age groups suffered from poor physical performance as they aged, but those with atrial fibrillation had a more significant decline.
Study participants were measured on tasks such as strength, balance, and walking speed.
Because of the possible association between the two conditions, researchers believe that the same methods could improve both, including more regular exercise and perhaps blood thinners.
Other risks and treatments
Atrial fibrillation can eventually lead to other health conditions, including heart attack and stroke.
Some patients who need to be treated for atrial fibrillation may find themselves with other heart problems, increased stroke risks, and more. Treatment for atrial fibrillation might even result in long periods of being hospitalized. Health care providers also may consider installing a pacemaker which can be useful with heart rhythm concerns.
There is a number of studies taking place focusing on possible uses of anticoagulant medications that can be taken orally. Participants are allowed to take certain medications for at least a month and no more than six months.
Other studies have focused on pharmaceutical options beyond anticoagulants, including medication that can increase rhythm control or beta-blockers. Some providers are also looking at catheter ablation, a procedure that burns away part of the heart area with a certain radio frequency.
Because of the association with the general aging process, providers should consider taking beta-blockers. These can be used for general low blood pressure as well as trying to lessen the effects of atrial fibrillation.
Because some people aren’t even aware that they have atrial fibrillation, there are various online organizations that can provide resources and answer questions.
September is also Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, an annual opportunity to share information about this condition and encourage people to learn more.