Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Does Atrial Fibrillation Get Worse Over Time?
With the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, most people want to know does atrial fibrillation get worse over time? While atrial fibrillation is a progressive condition in most people, it doesn’t have to be this way. In this article, I’ll teach you what you need to do to stop the disease progression and hopefully make your atrial fibrillation go away.
Carrie’s Atrial Fibrillation
Like 99% of my patients, Carrie wanted to know, does atrial fibrillation get worse over time?
“That depends,” I said.
“Depends on what?” Carrie asked.
“It depends on whether you can stop the heart from scarring further or not. If you can stop the scarring, then you can prevent atrial fibrillation from getting worse. The key is to identify what caused your heart to scar up and disrupt electrical pathways in the first place. If you can identify the cause and correct it, then your heart will have a chance to heal. Otherwise, atrial fibrillation gets worse over time,” I said.
I then went on to share with Carrie what I am going to share with you now…
Premature Heart Aging, Heart Scarring, and Atrial Fibrillation
For most people, atrial fibrillation represents premature aging of your heart. The thousands of little health decisions you make every day determine whether your heart ages fast or slow.
With each episode of atrial fibrillation, more scarring is possibly happening to your heart. This is because heart scarring, or fibrosis, can occur with each atrial fibrillation attack.
Also, other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, anxiety, etc. may also cause heart scarring. The key is to stop the scarring if you don’t want atrial fibrillation to get worse over time.
In my experience, if patients can lose the necessary weight to get back to a normal weight, keep their blood pressure in the normal range, eat right, exercise daily, optimize sleep and stress levels then not only does atrial fibrillation not progress but it also may go away on its own
Is there an atrial fibrillation tipping point?
As more heart scarring occurs, you will likely have more frequent and more prolonged episodes of atrial fibrillation. Eventually, the heart may be out of rhythm all of the time.
This phenomenon is what my colleague, Dr. Jared Bunch, and I described as the “Atrial Fibrillation Tipping Point” in an article we recently published in a prominent heart rhythm medical journal. Basically, this AFib tipping point means that once enough scar tissue is laid down within the heart, the heart will no longer hold rhythm on its own.
Can You Reverse Atrial Fibrillation?
Yes, you can absolutely reverse atrial fibrillation! I have seen this countless times in my cardiology practice.
The key is to stop the progressive scarring through healthy living and then reduce the strain on the heart so that future episodes don’t occur. For a primer on how to do this, please read this article I wrote called, How to Get Rid of Atrial Fibrillation Once and For All.
Carrie was motivated. Her diagnosis of atrial fibrillation was a wake-up call.
She always knew she needed to get rid of the sugar and processed foods. She also knew that she needed to exercise every day, get more sleep at night, and stress less. However, with the stress of a full-time job and teenage kids at home, there never seemed to be enough time for self-care.
Atrial fibrillation was a game changer. It forced her to confront her own mortality. She had to be there for her kids. It was her body’s way of telling her that she was aging way too fast.
With the fear of another atrial fibrillation attack, Carrie never missed a day. Eating real food, daily exercise, and optimizing sleep and stress levels was a top priority for her.
She also lost weight, a lot of weight, without even dieting. A year later her weight was down 40 pounds and the atrial fibrillation gone. After several years without an attack, I have now moved her visits to the atrial fibrillation clinic to an “as needed” basis.
To ensure that her bad habits never come back, Carrie keeps her emergency room EKG of her heart in atrial fibrillation taped to her refrigerator. This daily reminder is all she needs to stay strong.
Carrie is living proof that atrial fibrillation doesn’t have to be a progressive condition. Despite what your doctor may tell you, atrial fibrillation doesn’t have to get worse over time. Her experience also highlights that if your incentive for behavior change is strong enough, then anything is possible.
To prevent the atrial fibrillation tipping point from happening, the most important thing you can do is to live the healthiest life possible. You have to stop the scarring today if you want to stop or even reverse the progression of atrial fibrillation going forward. Resolve today to slow the aging process of your heart.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.