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Living with Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation can develop at any time and be mild to relatively severe.

Yet with no known cure, it remains a condition that patients can adapt to, and learn to live with.

Experts point to a range of steps and measures that people can take that will help them manage their condition, live with Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and minimise the impact of it.

Understanding the condition

Steps to manage AF, and lower the risk of stroke, include learning more about the condition, its symptoms, causes and treatments.

Speaking to others living with AF through support networks can be helpful and research has shown that people who have a good understanding of their AF report fewer symptoms, feel more in control of their condition and less distressed by it.

Experiences of AF differ and while some people have no clear symptoms, with the condition picked up during a routine visit to a physician, others may have a noticeable and significant event.

Stroke is a concern, with people with AF having a five-times higher risk of stroke with a diagnosis, though this risk can be reduced with medication.

Take exercise

Exercise can help reduce AF symptoms, risk of stroke, lower resting heart rate, manage weight, and improve mood, but build up activity gradually and after speaking to a physician.

Tiredness is a common symptom of AF but this can be helped by trying to keep heart rate as normal as possible, taking prescribed medication, exercising, eating a healthy diet and getting good quality sleep.

Some of the most basic heart health tips start with diet, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Healthy diet

Diet is critical but there are foods that are better to eat than others.

Following a heart healthy eating plan is important, with a diet based around minimally processed foods with plenty of vegetables and fruit. Include whole grains, oily fish and poultry but cut back on foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, salt and sugar.

While symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and a fast heartbeat can make daily activities harder, simple dietary changes can help.

Cutting caffeine

The American Heart Association has an established patient guide to living with AF, which also emphasises the importance of diet.

It particularly warns patients who take the blood thinner warfarin to be careful about eating green leafy vegetables and foods that are high in vitamin K – which the body uses to help blood to clot - such as broccoli, spinach, or lettuce as these may affect the medication.

Patients should also check about the contents of over-the-counter medications, such as nasal sprays and cold remedies, as they may contain substances that can aggravate AF.

Limit caffeine such as in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate, and cut back on alcohol.

Coping with stress

Losing weight, stopping smoking, and controlling stress can make a big difference, alongside adhering to your treatment plan.

Deep breathing, exercise, massage, meditation, and Yoga have real benefits.

Stress may have a role in AF for some people and research suggests that approximately 54% of patients with intermittent AF cite psychological stress as the most common trigger.

Knowing your condition allows you to communicate your needs to family, friends, and healthcare providers and reduces stress, while being mindful of emotional health and planning periods of relaxation and “scheduling pleasant events” is invaluable.

Regular monitoring

While the condition is intermittent and may come on without notice, an important element of living with AF and managing the condition is through regular monitoring.

Remote monitoring and wearable smart devices are increasingly used to detect and assess the presence of the condition in patients, such as the CART ring cardio tracker from Sky Labs.

As the world’s first ring-type smart wearable heart rhythm monitoring medical device, it provides photoplethysmography (PPG) signals to continuously measure heart rate from screening the bloodstream 24/7 through the user’s finger.

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