Living with atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation (also known as AF or AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm). The most common symptom of AF is heart palpitations (an irregular and rapid heartbeat, typically experienced as a rapid thumping in the chest).
Atrial fibrillation increases your risk for stroke, heart failure, and being hospitalized. Learn more about these complications in "Why should I be concerned about atrial fibrillation?".
Use our Atrial Fibrillation: Stroke Risk Assessment tool to find out your risk of stroke.
The good news is that you can live an active, healthy life with treatment and healthy lifestyle choices and take steps to help prevent these complications.
Here's what you can do:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Your daily meals should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Use Canada's Food Guide as a guide on ways to eat healthy. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may also suggest you follow a special diet designed to help reduce blood pressure. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for diet tips, especially if you take oral anticoagulants.
- Exercise regularly. Try to aim for 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise each week, in intervals of at least 10 minutes. Before you start any physical activity, check with your doctor or nurse to see what level of activity is safe for you.
- Maintain healthy weight. This can be done by eating healthy and exercising.
- Quit smoking. If you smoke, quit. Even if you do not smoke, avoid second-hand smoke, which may increase the risk of heart disease, a potential risk factor for AF.
- Limit your alcohol intake. Since excessive alcohol is a trigger for AF, it's best to limit the amount of alcohol that you drink.
- Cope with stress. Stress increases your risk of heart disease. Find ways to help you cope with and reduce stress.
- Avoid substances that can increase your risk of irregular heart rhythms. Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, and chocolate, can trigger atrial fibrillation symptoms. Some over-the-counter medications and natural health products can increase your heart rate or interfere with your medications. Avoid these substances and always check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any medications.
- Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. Your health care provider can monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly to make sure their levels are not high. If they are, talk to your doctor about what you can do to keep them at a healthy level (e.g., further lifestyle changes, medications).
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed. If you have difficulty taking your medication or are concerned about side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. It is important to take your medications as prescribed because they help relieve your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and reduce your risk of long-term complications, such as stroke.
In addition, it's important to see your doctor regularly for check-ups. Your doctor needs to monitor your progress, see how well the treatment is working, and help you maintain your quality of life. Learn more about talking to your doctor.