Key Takeaways

  • Adults aged 65+ are at the highest risk for developing a dangerous heart condition called atrial fibrillation (AFib).

  • When left untreated, AFib can increase your risk of having a stroke by 500% and double your chances of heart-related death.

  • Many older adults never experience, or don't recognize, warning signs. But there are steps you can take to prevent or manage AFib. 


What causes atrial fibrillation (AFib)?

AFib affects 9% of Americans aged 65+ and occurs when electrical signals in the upper chambers of your heart become chaotic—causing the upper chamber to quiver rather than pump, disrupting its ability to efficiently move blood through its chambers.

When blood collects in the upper chambers or moves slowly, a clot can form and potentially cause you to have a stroke if it is pumped out of your heart and travels to your brain.

So what can you do to prevent or manage AFib?

Knowing and avoiding AFib risk factors

There are some risk factors that are unavoidable, like age and family history, but you have the power to control other risks. Start by taking a broader approach to chronic disease prevention and management. Conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and sleep apnea are major AFib triggers that are often easy to prevent.

Also adjust your lifestyle habits:

  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Don’t smoke
  • Avoid prolonged athletic training

Staying on alert for AFib symptoms

Some of AFib’s most common symptoms aren’t typically seen as alarming. That’s why it’s especially important to know the warning signs and not dismiss them. Signs include:

  • A fluttering heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Light-headedness
  • Feeling winded even while at rest
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting

Today’s technology has made it easier for medical professionals to detect AFib early, so don’t be a stranger at the doctor’s office. Be proactive and make sure to get your annual wellness checkup and take advantage of all of Medicare’s preventive benefits and screenings.

Managing AFib with treatment

If you suspect that you have AFib—or if you’ve already been diagnosed—know that there are treatments that can significantly reduce your risk of a stroke. Explore your options with a health care professional. Treatment could include blood thinner medications and/or a surgical procedure called a cardiac ablation, which removes the bad heart tissue.

Keep in mind that if your doctor prescribes medications, don’t stop taking them even if you no longer notice symptoms—it doesn’t mean AFib is gone.

February is American Heart Month

February is a great month to pay close attention to your heart health, but following these tips will help you stay healthy all year long. Be proactive about avoiding the risk factors for AFib and visiting your doctor.