Living Your Best Life with Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Fan Roger Fan, MD
Complex Arrhythmia Ablation Program
Heart Rhythm Center 
Stony Brook University Heart Institute 

September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month and Stony Brook heart rhythm specialist Roger Fan, MD, offers a variety of tools here to help you live your best life with AFib — the most common heart rhythm disorder. And, looking beyond September, Stony Brook’s compassionate and experienced AFib healthcare team is available year-round to help navigate through any uncertainty and answer any, and all, questions you may have.

What should I know about atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation or AFib is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure. In fact, with AFib, there’s a five times greater risk of suffering a stroke.

The symptoms. Symptoms often include palpitations (racing or fluttering heartbeat), shortness of breath, chest discomfort, lightheadedness and extreme fatigue. About 10 percent of patients with AFib experience no symptoms at all, though, and are diagnosed only when the disorder is detected during an unrelated office visit.

The risk factors. Most at-risk are those with an underlying heart condition, family history, high blood pressure, obesity or chronic condition such as thyroid disease, sleep apnea or diabetes. Add to the mix, also, being over 60 years old. 

How do I lead a full and active life with AFib?
Eat heart-healthy. When making out your grocery list, opt for a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes. Limit the usual suspects… saturated and trans fats, sodium, red meats, and sugary foods and beverages. Talk to your doctor about eating foods high in vitamin K such as leafy greens, which can interfere with the effectiveness of blood thinning medication. If you are obese, a weight loss of just 10 percent can decrease symptoms of AFib.

Channel your inner Rocky Balboa. Safe, effective and enjoyable exercise like walking and cycling can help you drop pounds, control cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, lift your spirits and make your heart stronger. If you aren’t used to regular exercise or are over 60, talk to your doctor first.

Listen to your body. Know your “Big 3” numbers — cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Getting more active, losing weight and making smart food choices can help get your numbers into a healthy range. Tell your doctor about any new symptoms or if your treatment isn’t working for you.

Rein in stress. Anger and anxiety can cause an uptick in heart rate and make AFib worse. Look for ways to relax whether it’s walking, spending time with friends and family, meditation or yoga. Sometimes hearing from others can be a good way to relieve stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may want to consider joining a support group like the American Heart Association’s My AFib Experience®.

Be smart about coffee, alcohol and smoking. Cut back on or avoid caffeine and alcohol. These can act as stimulants and affect your heart rate. If you smoke, you know the drill by now… quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you need help quitting, talk to your healthcare team.

Get enough ZZZZ’s. Up to half of those with AFib don’t sleep well due to sleep apnea — multiple mini-awakenings caused by irregular breathing. If you aren’t getting six to eight hours a night, let your doctor know.

Learn more.
If you’re experiencing rhythm disorder symptoms, you likely have many questions. Our heart rhythm specialists work closely with your referring physician to ensure the quality, ease and safety of your Stony Brook experience. For an in-person or telehealth appointment, please call (631) 44-HEART (444-3278).

Learn more.


Do something good for your heart health today by taking our free heart health risk assessment
For an appointment with one of our cardiology experts, call (631) 44-HEART (444-3278)