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.
Do you or someone you love suffer from atrial fibrillation (A-fib)? If so, you are not alone. One in four Americans will have at least one episode of A-fib in their lives. In this article, I share how to get rid of atrial fibrillation.
Many of my patients feel horrible when A-fib strikes. Their hearts race chaotically and they often feel short of breath, fatigued, dizzy, lightheaded, or may even have chest pain.
The effects of A-fib can be devastating. A-fib is one of the major causes of stroke. It can also put people on a number of different medications, all with serious side effects.
This is something you definitely want to avoid, if possible…
If you are like most patients with this condition, you have already been put on a heavy duty blood thinner for life. You may also be on a medicine to slow your heart down or hold you in rhythm.
Do you want to live this way for the rest of your life? There are other options.
If aggressive lifestyle changes are made soon enough, the A-fib may completely go away. I have seen many patients “beat” A-fib just by making significant lifestyle changes. For others, the A-fib attacks may significantly decrease. Sometimes, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough. If this is the case, all is not lost. These lifestyle changes will double your chances of successfully beating A-fib with a minimally invasive procedure called an A-fib ablation.
If we are going to beat A-fib, we need to know everything that may be contributing to this condition. If we can aggressively attack each of these 10 items early enough there is an excellent chance that you can get rid of A-fib once and for all!
1. Get Rid of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the main causes of A-fib. It puts a big strain on the heart which can cause the lower chambers of the heart to thicken and the upper chambers of the heart to enlarge.
If you have high blood pressure you are not alone. Studies show that half of all Americans have a blood pressure above the goal of 120/80 mmHg as established by the American Heart Association. As with A-fib, if significant lifestyle changes are made early enough, high blood pressure is completely reversible.
I have seen this with many of my patients. In fact, after just a few weeks of making major lifestyle changes, under the direction of their physicians they can start getting off of their high blood pressure medications. I personally dropped my blood pressure which could go as high as 150/90 mmHg down to 110/70 mmHg without medications.
For more information on how to reverse high blood pressure, please read my article “How to Get Off Your Blood Pressure Medications: Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps.”
Until you can reverse your high blood pressure with lifestyle modification, you may need to work with your physician on getting this under control. For my patients with A-fib, I tend to be aggressive on getting the blood pressure under control. I usually shoot for a target of less than 135/85 mmHg.
2. Reverse Your Biologic Age
Unfortunately, getting older is a big risk factor for developing A-fib. Even though you are getting older year-by-year (your chronological age), you can reverse your biologic age now! Your biologic age can be 10-20 years younger than how “old” you are. You can regain your youth, feel great, and reverse the effects of aging on your heart.
How do you reverse your biologic age? Please read my recent article “We Can Reverse the Aging Process“.
3. Keep Stress in Check
It seems like we are all stressed out. According to a study from Everest College, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work. One study showed that our chronic stress is the equivalent of smoking 5 cigarettes a day! Even if you just think you are stressed is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%!
When we are stressed our bodies release cortisol and adrenalin into the blood stream. These substances are toxic to the heart if it continues long enough.
What can we do to get our stress under control? Make it a priority to do something every day to get your stress levels under control. We will never be able to completely avoid stress. It is part of the human experience.
Even something as simple as yoga to calm your nerves has been shown to decrease your risk of A-fib by 50%! The key is to recognize your stress and do something actively every day to bring your stress levels down. For some people this could be exercising, spending time in nature, reading a good book, getting a good night of sleep, or just hanging out with your friends.
For more information on this, please read my article “Seven Ways to Manage Stress”. https://drjohnday.com/?p=779
4. Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is like stress, it can be helpful to the body for short periods of time. However, when inflammation never turns off it can damage the heart and the rest of the body as well as result in premature aging.
It has been recognized for quite some time that inflammation is an important cause of A-fib. The good news is that if we can turn off the inflammation for our heart it will help the rest of our body to recover as well.
Did you know there is a simple blood test your doctor can order for you to check your inflammation level? This test is called C Reactive Protein or CRP for short. The goal is to have a CRP of less than 1 mg/L. If you can get your CRP to less than one you can dramatically reduce your risk of A-fib, heart attacks, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.
How can we reduce inflammation? Please read the article I wrote on this subject entitled “Six Strategies to Reduce Inflammation and Chronic Pain“.
5. Get Your Weight in Line
Did you know that being overweight is one of the biggest causes of A-fib today? A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by my good friend, Dr. Prash Sanders, showed how important weight loss is with reversing A-fib. In this study, if overweight people could lose just 32 pounds, they could reduce their A-fib attacks nearly three-fold.
This is something I have seen time and time again in my practice. Overweight people with A-fib who can lose the weight can often make their A-fib go away.
6. Eat the Right Foods
Did you know the rates of A-fib are several times higher in North America than anywhere else in the world? The Standard American Diet (SAD) is like pouring gasoline on the A-fib fire. The right foods can reverse most of the factors, discussed in this article, driving A-fib.
For my patients with A-fib I recommend the following:
-Nine servings of fruits or vegetables daily
-At least one serving of nuts or seeds daily
-At least one serving of legumes daily
-Two servings of a low mercury oily fish, like salmon, weekly
For many of my patients, they need to learn how to eat vegetables. Vegetables can be the most wonderful tasting food if prepared right. These foods can heal our hearts and our bodies.
To go along with these must eat healing foods, I recommend that my A-fib patients minimize or avoid the following three foods.
-Processed or prepared foods
-Animal meat, especially processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats) and red meat
-Sugar, including foods that are immediately turned to sugar like wheat flour, white rice, or potatoes
The goal is to eat real food. To get back to cooking and sharing meals with friends and families!
7. Rejuvenating Sleep
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get rejuvenating sleep if we are to beat A-fib. For most people this means at least seven hours of sleep. It also means sleep free from sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea? That is where people stop breathing while sleeping. These big drops in oxygen levels when people are not breathing can lead not only to A-fib but also to heart attacks, sudden death, heart failure, or high blood pressure.
How do I know if I have sleep apnea? Generally I find that the spouse or sleeping partner can easily make this diagnosis. People with sleep apnea usually snore like a train and then will stop breathing for 20 or 30 seconds.
Fortunately, for most people, sleep apnea is totally reversible. It is a complication of being overweight. With weight loss the sleep apnea usually goes away.
Until the weight can be lost, I recommend that my patients with sleep apnea get treated. Studies show that you can cut the numbers of A-fib episodes by about 50% with getting the sleep apnea treated.
8. Get Moving
Did you know that people with the least amount of physical activity are at high risk of developing A-fib? The key is to get moving! The first thing I recommend for my patients is to get a pedometer.
Studies show that just the mere act of tracking your steps will increase the number of steps you take each day by 2,500. That is the equivalent of walking more than one extra mile each day just by tracking your steps!
The pedometer is so helpful because people overestimate their activity. In fact, based on pedometer data, less than 5% of Americans get enough physical activity.
I have found that in my practice, most of my A-fib patients only get 2,000 to 3,000 steps each day. The average American gets 5,000 steps each day. The average European, where A-fib is much less common, often gets about 10,000 steps each day. The goal is to get at least 10,000 steps a day.
While this may seem hard to achieve, most of my patients can easily get to this goal. You just have to be creative. Can you walk somewhere instead of driving? Can you add an evening walk to your day? The possibilities are endless.
In addition to 10,000 steps daily, I recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day. I am often asked, what exercises should I do. My answer is simple, do what you enjoy. Anything counts. Gardening, dancing, skiing, hiking, etc. are all great. The most important thing is that you are consistent and do something each day.
I do recommend varying your daily exercise to keep it fun, work different muscle groups, and to prevent overuse injuries. Depending on what you choose to do, you may also need to incorporate a couple days of strength training into your routine.
9. Get Rid of the Vices
Tobacco, alcohol, and any stimulants, including caffeine, can be a trigger for A-fib. Did you know there is even a condition called Holiday Heart? This is when someone drinks a lot of alcohol and then goes into A-fib.
For many of my patients, just getting rid of these vices can eliminate A-fib episodes. Other stimulant medications, including Sudafed, Ritalin, or other attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications can also trigger A-fib.
To learn more about the effect of caffeine to heart arrhythmias, please read this article I wrote.
10. When All Else Fails Get it Ablated
For most of my patients, aggressive lifestyle modification can drive A-fib into remission. Unfortunately, there will always be some cases that just don’t seem to resolved with lifestyle modification. What should be done in these cases?
For these patients, blood thinners, medications to slow the heart, and rhythm controlling medications are often prescribed. Unfortunately, for most patients, rhythm drugs only work for a few years at most.
When medications are no longer effective in controlling the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, an ablation is the next step. This is also an excellent option for patients who have side effects from the medications or just do not want to be on life-long medications.
Fortunately, the lifestyle changes we have discussed in this article can double the chances of a successful procedure if an ablation is ultimately required to control the symptoms.
With an ablation, we go into the heart through an IV in the leg, map where the A-fib is coming from in the heart, and then ablate those areas. The entire procedure takes about three hours and patients will typically spend the night in the hospital following the procedure. The following day patients will go home with just a band aid.
I have personally done nearly 4,000 of these A-fib ablation procedures. In experienced hands, most patients can ultimately be free of atrial fibrillation. There are certainly risks associated with this procedure but these can largely be avoided by physicians with the most experience in performing these procedures. Please discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives of A-fib ablations with your physician.
Feel free to leave your questions and comments below.
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.