Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Heart diseases include:
- Blood vessel disease, such as coronary artery disease
- Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
- Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects)
- Heart valve disease
- Disease of the heart muscle
- Heart infection
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.
Nicole Gorman, MN-NP(F), CCN(C), Nurse Practitioner, discusses how patients diagnosed with atrial fibrillation can take control of their condition through healthy living, diet and exercise.
Taking Control of Atrial Fibrillation Through Healthy Living
Often people with atrial fibrillation want to know: can they lead a normal life and what does that entail? Is their life over, the way they know it? And really it’s actually the opposite, we encourage people to carry on with their usual activities. We want people to stay active and do the things that they enjoy. And the goals of management are to actually promote ongoing quality of life and symptom management.
People often ask: what does it mean to live well with atrial fibrillation? They have this new diagnosis, it’s very scary, they have these new symptoms, and really what it means is ensuring people are carrying on with lifestyle modifications that include diet, exercise, keeping a healthy weight, reducing things like alcohol, smoking cessation, all things that compound to influence other chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes for example.
Which actually are causes for atrial fibrillation. Often atrial fibrillation is a symptom of other chronic conditions, so if we can keep those other chronic conditions under good control, then we can often keep the atrial fibrillation under good control with less episodes, better symptom management and less overall what we call atrial fibrillation burden. And so by modifying our lifestyle with good habits of dietary, exercising, and a good body weight, we can often keep these things under control.
Some people often underestimate the value of an exercise program, because they feel that maybe their exercise capacity is reduced, or they’re just out of shape, but actually it does take time to build this up. And there have been studies that have shown if people go through a boot camp with rigorous exercise, a strict diet with weight loss, that actually they had reduced burden of atrial fibrillation, reduced frequency of episodes, and they tolerated the symptoms when they did have episodes.
And it actually is something that they have control over, so often the atrial fibrillation, it’s being a new diagnosis for people. It’s their heart and it’s scary, and people feel vulnerable, and at a loss for control in some instances. They don’t like to take the medications that are offered to them, because it’s all new, and they have side effects sometimes and so they feel a loss of control.
But this is actually something where they do have a great deal of control and can take charge in a part of their life that actually really has good effects on managing their atrial fibrillation as proven now in studies. Even yoga has been proven to reduce the burden of atrial fibrillation, reduce heart rate and anxiety, which can all play a role in atrial fibrillation.
People with atrial fibrillation often want to know: when do I go to seek medical attention? And the reality – and the good news – about atrial fibrillation is it isn’t imminently life threatening, so it’s not going to cause the heart to stop or lead to a heart attack. But certainly people can feel very unwell with it.
If someone’s having an episode of atrial fibrillation and they’re feeling okay, they’re not overly unwell, it’s very safe to wait it out at home. If 12 to 24 hours have passed and symptoms are still ongoing, that would be the time to contact their health care provider for further direction.
If anyone is ever profoundly unwell with chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling like they’re going to faint, that’s definitely the time to be either calling 911 or going to seek medical attention, probably at their local emergency department.
Often people with atrial fibrillation feel a sense of loss of control because of the new diagnosis, medications that they’re not used to, symptoms that they’re not used to. But where they can gain control is with remembering that they actually have a great deal of influence on their condition by maintaining healthy lifestyle choices with diet, exercise and maintaining healthy body weight, reducing alcohol and smoking cessation.
So for any of those things if they need more assistance they can seek more information through their health care provider.