What Is AFib?
If you have atrial fibrillation, or AFib, you already know how it feels. A result of chaotic electrical signals in the upper chambers of your heart, AFib causes irregular, often rapid heart rhythm. You may feel fatigue, dizziness, weakness, sweating, and chest pain. The good news is that there are simple ways to make an AFib attack less likely.
Watch the Caffeine
Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea have long been linked with irregular heartbeats. There is some evidence that stimulants may make episodes of AFib more likely, but there are also some studies showing a lower risk among people who drink coffee and tea regularly. Although the findings about coffee and tea are mixed, you should skip energy drinks, which appear to raise the risk of AFib, especially when combined with alcohol. Caffeine supplements are also not a good idea.
Avoid Alcohol, Especially Binge Drinking
If you really tie one on, or binge drink, you may feel an AFib episode, or the so-called holiday heart syndrome, the next day. But even just having a beer or two daily can bring on a rapid heartbeat and other AFib symptoms. To reduce your odds of having an AFib attack, swap out alcoholic beverages for water or another low-calorie drink.
Eat a Banana (or Anything Rich in Potassium)
Research shows that if your blood is low in potassium, you are at higher risk for AFib. To help prevent attacks, snack on bananas. The sweet treat is packed with potassium and other heart-healthy nutrients. If you don't like bananas, try other high-potassium foods, which include avocado, black beans, Brussels sprouts, and peanut butter.
Dunk Your Head in Cold Water
As the old saying goes, 'May cooler heads prevail,' and that holds especially true if you have an episode of AFib with a rapid heart rate. When you dip your head in cold water or take a cold shower, you stimulate the vagal nerve, which slows your heart rate. Even holding an ice cube to your forehead or standing at an open freezer door for a few minutes may do the trick.
Strike a (Yoga) Pose
An ancient practice, yoga is a popular way to reduce stress, practice mindfulness, and improve fitness. In one study of 80 people with atrial fibrillation, those who were assigned to do yoga reported better quality of life and had better blood pressure and heart rates. If you're not familiar with common yoga poses such as downward dog and mountain, look for a yoga studio in your community or check out online classes.
Try the Valsalva Maneuver
A breathing technique called the Valsalva maneuver can prevent an AFib episode. You don't need any special equipment, and you can do it pretty much anywhere. Simply pinch your nostrils and keep your mouth closed while attempting to breathe for 10 to 15 seconds. This increases the pressure inside your ear and chest, which reduces some heart arrhythmias. Your ears might pop, and that's OK. Just don't blow too hard, as it might damage your ear.
Take a Deep (Belly) Breath
Belly breathing is a quick, and relaxing way to slow your heart rate, and it's easy. Lie on your back with your head supported and your knees bent. With one hand over your heart and the other below your rib cage, breathe in slowly through your nose, and exhale through puckered lips. You can do this technique while seated in a chair, too.
Put a Pin in It
Some people talk up the benefits of acupuncture, but does it really work? If you have AFib, it just might. A 2012 study found that this traditional Chinese treatment prevents arrhythmias in people with persistent AFib who have first been treated with electricity or medication. And another showed that in people with persistent AFib, acupuncture of the so-called Neiguan spot has an effect similar to that of a common AFib drug called amiodarone.
Consider a Magnesium Supplement
Some research suggests that getting enough magnesium may lower the risk of AFib. One study showed that people who had low magnesium levels were more likely to develop AFib. In another, people in an ER for atrial fibrillation who got magnesium along with usual care were more likely to return to a normal pulse than those given a placebo. The jury is still out, as not all the research supports this. So you may want to ask your doctor if it's a good idea to take a magnesium supplement.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
It's one of the best ways to put a stop to prevent AFib. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based protein sources like beans, nuts, and seeds. Avoid foods that are salty or high in sugar or saturated fat. Low or zero-fat dairy products and leaner meats such as fish and poultry are better choices. Avoid artificial trans fat.
In addition to causing high blood pressure, high sodium levels have been linked with a long-term risk of developing AFib. Avoid or reduce salty foods such as pizza, cold cuts, salad dressings, and soups to reduce your risk. Check food labels for the amount of sodium, and ask your doctor what your daily limit should be.
Move Your Body
Exercise makes your heart stronger, reduces stress, helps shed pounds, and puts you in a better mood. And if you do it regularly, you may have fewer AFib attacks, spend less time in the hospital, and enjoy a better overall quality of life. And among people with AFib, those who exercise are far less likely to die from heart disease.
If you're thirsty and your pee is a dark yellow color, you're probably dehydrated. That means you're more likely to have an AFib episode. Experts recommend that men drink about 15.5 cups of fluid per day. Women should go for about 11.5 cups. This includes water and liquid that comes from other beverages and food. Staying hydrated is easy. Just keep a cold glass of water by your side, and sip it throughout the day.
Heart Disease: How to Help Prevent an AFib Attack
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