Self-help for atrial fibrillation

Diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors are known to affect your risk of heart disease.The major risk factors for heart disease, as well as the condition itself, are all closely linked to the risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Can a heart-healthy lifestyle prevent atrial fibrillation? Can it reduce symptoms?

There's preliminary evidence that managing the risk factors for heart and blood vessel disease may improve the long-term outlook for people with atrial fibrillation. On a practical level, that could mean fewer episodes of a-fib and improvements in symptoms—in short, a better quality of life for you.

Focus on heart health

The ability of lifestyle change to reduce the burden of atrial fibrillation remains an active area of research. In the meantime, take steps to live a healthy and active lifestyle, in addition to medication and other standard a-fib treatments:

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Control high blood pressure.
  • Get treatment for sleep apnea if you have it.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don't drink alcohol, or consume only in moderation.
  • Keep your cholesterol and triglycerides within a healthy range.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Get recommended vaccinations for the flu and pneumonia, especially if you have heart disease.

Make sure to also ask your doctor or pharmacist about any new medica-tions, including over-the-counter remedies and herbal supplements. Sometimes these can interact in a harmful way with warfarin, direct oral anticoagulants, or rhythm-controlling drugs.

Although your ability to prevent or treat atrial fibrillation with a healthy lifestyle has limits, most people are able to control bothersome symptoms long-term with medication, procedures, or both. That said, some people run out of safe or effective options, in which case the a-fib will become permanent. But with proper anticoagulation, you can still minimize your risk of stroke, the most dangerous complication of this abnormal heart rhythm.

For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation, check out Managing Atrial Fibrillation, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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