Haims: Take notice of your heart rhythm
Heart rhythm is an important vital sign that everyone should be aware of as it is an indicator of overall well-being. When your heart rate is not functioning correctly, oxygen and nutrient-rich blood do not supply the body with what it needs. Consequently, serious and life-threatening health concerns can develop.
Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is an irregular heart rhythm that begins in the upper chambers of the heart. It is caused by extremely fast and irregular heartbeats that can be as high as 140 beats per minute (bpm) at rest and sometimes higher than 200 bpm. AFib can occur in brief episodes, or it may be a permanent condition. Recognizing the signs of heart rhythm may prevent possible life-threatening complications such as stroke and other serious medical complications.
For most adults, a resting heart rate can average between 60 and 100 bpm. Generally, a lower heart rate suggests greater cardiovascular fitness and functioning. Athletes, for example, can have resting heart rates as low as 40 bpm. But if a lower average heart rate causes occasional dizziness or lack of energy, weakness, or confusion/memory concerns, it may be wise to consult a medical provider.
Conversely, a high resting heart rate (100 bpm) could indicate elevated risks of heart concern. When the heart beats too fast while at rest, the possibility exists that the heart will not pump enough blood to organs and tissue throughout the body. It could also indicate that the heart muscle may be weakened and prevent the brain and organs from getting enough oxygen to work properly.
For those over the age of 65, knowing more about your heart rate and its fluctuation will be useful in understanding potential risk and avoiding the occurrence.
The prevalence of atrial fibrillation is most often related to age. According to a recent academic article from the American Journal of Hypertension, the prevalence for Afib in the U.S. is estimated to be between 1% to 2% of the US general population — about 3.3 million people.
Obvious signs of Afib include heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, extreme tiredness, and shortness of breath. However, Afib can unfortunately be asymptomatic. As such, detection and the challenges of assessing someone at risk requires more attention by both medical professionals and those at risk.
I have a friend who is an incredible skier, mountain biker, and all-around great athlete. Last summer while on a mountain bike ride, we ran into each other on the trail. He was checking his heart rate, which led to a conversation about Afib. He mentioned to me that while on rides, his heart rate monitor alarm occasionally went off indicating his heart rate was above 200 bpm.
After changing to a different heart monitor, he explained that the occurrences occasionally continued, and he became aware of feeling light-headed, off balance, and even weak. Fortunately, he consulted his medical provider and found that he had Afib. He’s only in his mid-40s.
According to information provided by the American Heart Association, it is estimated that the prevalence of undiagnosed Afib may be as high as 30% of all Afib cases.
Routine electrocardiograms performed by medical providers and the development of new technologies like portable Cardiac Implantable Electronic Devices along with athletic heart rate monitors, smartwatches, and step-counting devices are proving to be great tools for diagnosing and accessing one’s risk of Afib.
There are a number of things that can increase one’s risk of Afib. Having a family member with AFib may increase one’s chances of being diagnosed. As well, people who have a history of high blood pressure, underlying heart disease problems, drink large amounts of alcohol at a time, and even athletes can be at greater risk.
Afib can be a serious health concern but there are lifestyle choices and medical treatments that can assist people. Treating Afib depends on several factors that can include age, individual symptoms, frequency of occurrences, and other health issues. It is important to monitor your heart rhythm and use readily available devices to check it regularly.