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How To Avoid An Episode of “Runaway Heart”
February 05, 2020

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The irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, or Afib, makes you five times more likely to have a stroke. So, if you have Afib, says St. Luke’s heart rhythm specialist Steve Stevens, MD, it’s important that you stick to a few practical heart-health guidelines that can help you prevent an onset of Afib. 

  1. Take your meds: Follow your doctor’s orders, including taking the right dose of prescribed medicine(s) at the right time.

  2. Control your weight: Obesity affects more than 25 percent of the American population and is a major risk for developing and triggering Afib and other dangerous heart-related disorders. But it can be controlled, says Dr. Stevens. “Losing 10 percent of your body weight reduces Afib risk by 50 percent and help prevent episodes of the arrhythmia, too.” Excess pounds can cause a common sleep disorder, called obstructive sleep apnea, which is also tied to Afib risks. So, meal portion control and regular exercise are key to avoiding obesity, strengthening your heart and reducing your risk for Afib. (Talk with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen.) And if you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, make sure you regularly wear your CPAP or other another device so you get a good night’s rest.  

  3. Drink less alcohol: According to Dr. Stevens, just one alcoholic drink each day of the week greatly increases your chance of developing or provoking Afib. So, limit your alcohol intake and drink water instead. And you’ll cut your risk of having a “runaway” heartbeat.  

  4. Limit salt use: If you have high blood pressure, too much salt can trigger an episode of afib. And if you suffer from heart failure and Afib, the risks heart problems rise. Salt intake is a modifiable risk factor, so, when the shaker is being passed during a meal, it’s wise to pass on it.   

  5. Stay hydrated. Your body needs water to keep electrolytes in balance. When the level of potassium or magnesium in your body is too low, it can trigger Afib, says Dr. Stevens. “You’re at a higher risk for dehydration if you take a diuretic, or ‘water pill,’ to treat high blood pressure or heart failure.” So, if you’re on a diuretic, ask your doctor if you might benefit from taking a dietary potassium or magnesium supplement. 

  6. Sleep soundly. Interrupted sleep — whether insomnia, sleep apnea or simply a pattern of continually disturbed sleep — can cause scarring in your heart that leads to Afib, along with early dementia and a host of other medical woes. Follow the rules for better sleep: computers and other electronics off an hour before bedtime, a dark and quiet room, sensible and consistent bedtimes. And if you’ve been told you snore or stop breathing while asleep, get tested for obstructive sleep apnea. If the test is positive, see the advice in answer number 2 above. 

  7. Check with your doctor about caffeine: Modest amounts of caffeine (i.e. 1-2 cups of coffee per day) may be safe for patients with Afib, says Dr. Stevens, “But please discuss this with your doctor.” Keep in mind that even decaf coffee contains a small amount of caffeine. Also, Afib patients should avoid energy drinks and energy supplements.