A good run, a haunted house, that special someone — there are many factors that can cause your heart to beat faster than usual. These small moments of heartbeat irregularity are a part of how your body experiences the world and may not be something you even think about.
But a consistently abnormal rhythm can be a concern for your heart health.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) occurs when your heart’s regular and natural pattern is replaced with a fast and disorganized rhythm. AFib affects approximately 2.7 million Americans, and it is the most common form of heart arrhythmia.
Often people take their heart health for granted, but AFib can make you much more aware of what’s going on inside your body.
September is National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. Whether you have an AFib diagnosis, treatment plan, or symptoms, it’s a great time to pay extra attention to your heart.
When should you see your provider about AFib?
If You Are Experiencing Irregular Heartbeat Patterns ...
The most common warning sign of atrial fibrillation is a heart “quiver.” This is because AFib is caused by the upper chambers of your heart and the lower chambers of your heart beating out of sync, causing an irregular pattern.
This can feel like your heart is racing, fluttering, or skipping beats.
“Sometimes, people will dismiss symptoms if they have occurred just once or twice. Even a rare occurrence of symptoms is reason you should contact your Chester County Hospital provider
. Your provider can perform necessary diagnostic tests and help you monitor and manage your AFib. Sometimes, people will dismiss symptoms as an irregular occurrence, but that irregularity is exactly the reason you should reach out,” explains Donna M. Taylor, RN, MSN
, Nurse Navigator Manager at Chester County Hospital.
Your AFib symptoms will determine the kind of test used to confirm diagnosis.
At Chester County Hospital, common AFib diagnostic tests
- An Electrocardiogram: Generally, an AFib diagnosis includes an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) which records the rate and regularity of your heartbeats, as well as the size and position of the chambers in your heart.
- An Echocardiogram: During an echocardiogram, a small device emits ultrasound waves that echo off of your heart, creating a moving image. This is a non-invasive test.
- A Tilt Table Test: During this test, patients lay on a special table designed to simulate the action of standing up. While undergoing different degrees of “tilt,” your doctor can monitor your blood pressure and heart rate.
- A Holter Monitor: If your AFib episodes are intermittent, you may be asked to wear a Holter Monitor to detect abnormalities in your heart rate. A Holter Monitor will record your heart rate for 24 to 48 hours as you go about your daily activities.
Sometimes, AFib can go undetected because it is not accompanied by any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to stay up-to-date with your annual physicals and any other appointments with your Chester County Hospital provider.
If You’ve Been Diagnosed with AFib ...
If you have received an AFib diagnosis, you may feel nervous about your symptoms. Knowing when to call your provider — and what to be on the lookout for — can help you stay calm during a cardiac event or emergency.
“To help you monitor your AFib symptoms, it’s a good idea to start by getting in tune with your own heartbeat. By checking your own pulse if you think you are in AFib, you can determine if it is beating irregularly — and when to contact your provider,” says Taylor.
To check your own pulse:
- Place your index and middle finger on your wrist or neck.
- Find a clock or a timer, and count the number of heartbeats for a full 60 seconds.
- You can also monitor your heart for 30 seconds, and multiply the number of heartbeats by two.
- This number is your current heart rate, measured in beats per minute (bpm). Your resting pulse should be between 60-100 bpm.
You can also measure your own pulse with many fitness watches — even the very basic ones. If you’re concerned about your heart rate, you may want to consider investing in a watch that can measure it for you.
If your heart rate is in the 130 to 150 beats per minute range — with no known cause, like exercising — you may be experiencing an episode of atrial fibrillation.
When to Call Your Doctor
While the tools and treatment available at Chester County Hospital can help decrease the frequency of AFib episodes, you may still find yourself experiencing symptoms like fluttering heart, racing pulse, or heart palpitations.
Call your Chester County Hospital provider after experiencing an AFib episode. Your provider can help you manage your symptoms and assess other potential treatment methods if necessary.
When to Call 9-1-1
In addition to regularly monitoring your AFib, remember common heart attack and stroke symptoms as well. Untreated, AFib increases you are 5 times as likely to suffer a stroke, heart failure, or other heart-related complications.
Seek emergency care if you are experiencing any symptoms of a stroke, such as:
Numbness or weakness of your face, arm, or leg — particularly if those feelings are on one side of your body
Confusion or difficulty speaking
Difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
Dizziness, loss of balance, or difficulty walking
A severe headache with no known cause
Learn more about atrial fibrillation treatment at Chester County Hospital.
Listen To Your Heart
Your heart is a powerful organ, and it works hard to keep you healthy and moving every day. The best way you can repay your heart for its hard work is to listen when it’s trying to tell you something, and don’t let symptoms of AFib go unchecked.
Prioritizing your heart health can feel daunting, but small changes and knowing what to look out for can make a big difference in your overall health.
Do you have questions or concerns about AFib? Call 800-789-PENN (7366) to connect with the Chester County Hospital Heart and Vascular Center or Find a Doctor Near You.