2. “Is my Atrial Fibrillation genetic? Will my children get A-Fib too?”
Genetic research in A-Fib, though in its preliminary stages, has the potential to be a game changer for patients with A-Fib. But right now we just don’t have a definitive answer to your question.
A-Fib does run in families. Do you have a parent or other family member with A-Fib? Research has found that, if you have any immediate family with A-Fib, you have a 40% increased risk of developing A-Fib yourself. And the younger that family member was when they got A-Fib, the more likely you are to develop A-Fib. Following the logic of this research, your children may be 40% more likely to develop A-Fib.
While the gene that increases the tendency for Familial A-Fib has been identified, there hasn’t been enough research on the genetics of A-Fib to say whether or not you will pass it on to your children.
To learn more about how A-Fib can run in families, read a few of our Personal A-Fib stories: Jon Darsee (#68), Pat Truesdale (#63), Jan Claire (#39), Barry Gordon (#22), and James Adams (#13). You may want to read about Roger Meyer and Three Generations with AFib (see our book, Beat Your A-Fib, page 110).
FAQs Coping With Your Atrial Fibrillation: Day-to-Day Issues
Coping with your Atrial Fibrillation means a patient and their family have many and varied questions. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about dealing with the day-to-day issues of having Atrial Fibrillation. (Click on the question to jump to the answer.)
1. Specialist: “I like my cardiologist, but he has not talked about me seeing an Electrophysiologist [heart rhythm specialist]. Should I ask for a second opinion?”
2. Forewarning? “Is there any way to predict when I’m going to have an A-Fib attack?”
4. Progression of A-Fib: “How long do I have before my A-Fib goes into chronic or permanent A-Fib? I know it’s harder to cure. My A-Fib episodes seem to be getting longer and more frequent.”
6. Medical Marijuana: “Is smoking medical marijuana or using Marinol going to trigger or cause A-Fib? Will it help my A-Fib?
7. Action Plan: “During an A-Fib episode, when should I call paramedics (911 in the US) and/or take my husband to the hospital? I’m petrified. I need a plan.”
Related Question: “When my husband has an Atrial Fibrillation episode, what can I do for him? How can I be supportive?”
Related Question: “In case I have a stroke, what does my family need to know to help me? (I’m already on a blood thinner.) What can I do to improve my odds of surviving it?”
8. PVC/PACs: “I have a lot of extra beats and palpitations (PVCs or PACs) They seem to proceed an A-Fib attack. What can or should I do about them?”
9. DIY Monitors: “What kind of monitors are available for atrial fibrillation? Is there any way to tell how often I get A-Fib or how long the episodes last?”
Related Question: “My mom is 94 with A-Fib. Are there consumer heart rate monitors she can wear to alert me at work if her heart rate exceeds a certain number?”
10. Heart Rate: “Can I have A-Fib when my heart rate stays between 50-60 BPM? My doctor tells me I have A-Fib, but I don’t always have a rapid heart rate.”
Related Question: “My doctor says I need a pacemaker because my heart rate is too slow. I’m an athlete with A-Fib and have a naturally slow heart rate.”
11. Circulation: “Is there any way I can improve my circulation? I feel tired and a little light-headed, probably because my atria aren’t pumping properly. Is there a way without having to undergo a Catheter Ablation (poor success rate and risky at my age) or Surgery (even more risky)? I am in Chronic A-Fib. “”
12. Hereditary A-Fib: “Both my uncles and my Dad have Atrial Fibrillation. I’m worried. How can I avoid developing A-Fib? Can dietary changes help? Or lifestyle changes?”
13. Treatment choices: “How do I know which is the best A-Fib treatment option for me?”
Related Question: “In one of your articles it said that having an ablation was better than living in A-Fib. If your article means all types of A-Fib [including Paroxysmal], then I will consider an ablation.”
“What can I do for my husband when he has an Atrial Fibrillation episode? How can I be supportive?”
First, determine if this episode is typical. If you both know from experience that this A-Fib attack will pass, you can help by getting him to sit or lay down and relax as much as possible. Maybe he needs to be reassured—remind him that this isn’t life threatening. That may help to keep you both calm and to get you through it. (I know how hard it is to “relax” when your heart feels like it’s going to jump out of your chest and is totally out of control.)
You might suggest he try one or more of these tips shared by other A-Fib patients:
• Putting cold compresses or ice on the back of one’s neck.
• Laying down and trying to relax in a darkened room.
• Moderate exercise. For some, moderate exercise may help terminate an A-Fib attack. But for others, exercise may trigger or increase an A-Fib attack.
• Deep breathing and holding one’s breathe while pressing down hard on the diaphragm.
• A-Fib is sometimes triggered by body position—lying or leaning on the left side. Lying on one’s back and relaxing the chest may help terminate A-Fib episodes triggered by lying on the left side.
• Putting one’s head between one’s legs and deep breathing.
If this episode is unusual and your spouse is in great discomfort with his heart beating very rapidly and irregularly, consider calling emergency services (dial 911 in the US.) or drive him to a hospital emergency room. The emergency room staff can use a defibrillator and medications to electrically shock him back into normal sinus rhythm. Or convert him back into sinus rhythm using drugs.
Learn more at: Why & How to Create Your ‘A-Fib Episode Action Plan’
If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Monday, February 13, 2017
by Steve S. Ryan, PhD
When a patient is diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation, family members often struggle to understand what their loved one is going through. A-Fib can be a life altering disease―yet people with A-Fib often don’t look sick.
A-Fib not only impacts the patient’s health and quality of life but also the lives (and often livelihood) of their loved ones and co-workers.
Since 2002, we’ve fielded hundreds of questions from patients and answered the most common ones on our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages.
For National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, we compiled the answers to the ten most often asked questions by families into a special Free Report: The Top 10 Questions Families Ask About Atrial Fibrillation.
Download the 5-page .PDF Report here-> The Top 10 Questions Families Ask About A-Fib. Print, or, to keep a copy, SAVE the PDF to your hard drive.
by Steve S. Ryan, PhD
For a substantial portion of A-Fib patients, the impact on ‘quality of life’ extends beyond our beating heart. Atrial Fibrillation wreaks havoc with your head as well as your heart. Anxiety, fear, worry, confusion, frustration and depression. And at times, anger.
The psychological and emotional effects of Atrial Fibrillation can be debilitating. Recent research indicates that “psychological distress” worsens A-Fib symptoms’ severity.1
(Don’t expect much help from your heart doctors. They aren’t trained or often have little effective experience in dealing with the psychological and emotional aspects of A-Fib.)
Don’t be ashamed to admit how A-Fib makes you feel (especially if you’re a guy). Your psyche is just as important as your physical heart. Just acknowledging you have some or all of these symptoms is a step in the right direction.
Seven WAYS TO COPE WITH YOUR A-FIB FEAR AND ANXIETY
1. Knowledge is Power and Control!
Read about your treatment options, learn about your A-Fib. Read how others have dealt with their A-Fib. Search the list of Personal Experiences published on his site. With over 80 stories, you’re sure to find a few patients with similar symptoms as yourself. Knowing others have beaten their A-Fib is a tremendous psychological relief. This helps replace fear with hope!
2. Anxiety Thought Log
Confront your A-Fib fears directly. Don’t let them mill around in your subconscious. Former A-Fib patient, Anthony Bladon, suggests you keep an ‘anxiety thoughts log.’ Write down word-for-word what the anxious thought was, when, and what was the trigger. Confront each fearful thought and try to re-state it in a more reasonable frame of mind, thereby reducing the anxiety. (See Anthony Bladon and his anxiety log.)
This may sound a bit bizarre, but try repeating anxious thoughts to yourself. Express a fear to yourself over and over. Let the monotony make your mind wander to more enjoyable thoughts. Or set aside a 20 minute worrying time during the day and refuse to think about troubling fears at any other time.
3. Yoga, Relaxation Techniques, Meditation and Walking
In preliminary studies, Yoga has been demonstrated to improve A-Fib symptoms and to reduce A-Fib attacks, as well as improve quality of life, depression and anxiety.2 (See also FAQ #8 “I do Yoga. It relaxes me and helps with my stress level. Is there any evidence on Yoga helping with other A-Fib symptoms?“)
Relaxation techniques and meditation may also offer you relief from your anxieties.
A specific type of meditation called ‘Mindfulness’ is recommended by Harvard Pilgrim nurse case manager Linda Bixby. The technique is to ‘Observe and Feel the Physical Sensations’ of the A-Fib Episodes. At first this may seem counter-intuitive and may not work for you. The idea is to observe rather than resist or worry. You allow a frightening health event like an A-Fib attack to just run its course. For example, Neil Blanchette was diagnosed with A-Fib when he was 17. Meditation and “mindfulness” was a great help to him. “Just taking it in and letting myself feel the physical A-Fib experience was actually relaxing.”3(Thanks to David Holzman for calling our attention to this article.)
Walking curbs anxiety. Try to walk outdoors at approximately the same time each day. Breathing fresh air and having an established routine enhance the calming and relaxing effects of walking. But even if you can’t walk at the same time or outdoors, 20 minutes of walking daily reduces anxiety.
4. Natural Remedies:
Lavender Oil Aromatherapy: the light, soothing fragrance of lavender oil has long been used to ease anxiety (and insomnia). One example of many is Nature’s Way Calm Aid. “It contains Silexan, a type of lavender oil shown in clinical studies to ease anxiety as effectively as the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam (Ativan).”4
PharmaGABA: is a bioidentical form of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which serves as a critical calming agent in the central nervous system, works on the same chemical pathways as Xanax, Valium, and other drugs—without all the negative side effects; helps combat stress and anxiousness.5 One example is Natural Factors PharmaGABA
Relora: a blend of two botanical extracts (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) that helps reduce cortisol levels and promotes feelings of relaxation.6
Chamomile: “calms the nerves, reduces irritability and lessens the muscle spasms, headache and abdominal pain that can accompany anxiousness.” Substitute chamomile tea for caffeinated beverages, or take 60 drops of chamomile tincture in two ounces of water four times a day before or after meals, or add two drops of concentrated chamomile essential oil to a hot bath at night.7
Gotu Kola: restores health to brain and nerve cells by promoting blood circulation to the brain which has a calming effect.8
5. Counseling and Meds
Recognize that you may need professional help. Don’t be embarrassed to seek counseling. In addition, discuss if anxiety medication would be appropriate or helpful. (See Jay Teresi’s story, “Anxiety the Greatest Challenge” and Kelly Teresi’s story “A Young Wife Copes with Husband’s A-Fib” in my book, Beat Your A-Fib, pgs. 101-105)
6. Our A-Fib Support Volunteers
It might calm your fears to talk with or email someone who knows first-hand how A-Fib makes you feel. Each of our A-Fib Support Volunteers has gone through a lot to be cured of their A-Fib. They were helped along the way and now they want to return the favor by offering you support and hope. Learn more on our A-Fib Support Volunteers page (under Resources and Links).
7. Enlist Support From Your Loved Ones
Recognize that A-Fib can have significant consequences on your social interactions with your family and colleagues. Sit down and have a talk with your significant other(s), your friends and co-workers. Explain what A-Fib is, how it affects you and how it makes you feel. Ask for their understanding. They will want to help you, so be prepared to answer their questions.
Takeaway: Fight your fears! Ambush your anxiety! Atrial Fibrillation may be in your heart but it doesn’t have to be in your head. Seek your freedom from anxiety and improve the quality of your life.
Other ideas? If you have suggestions or programs that helped reduce your A-Fib-related anxiety, please email me and let me know.
Last updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2017
- Gehi AK at al. Psychopathology and symptoms of atrial fibrillation: implications for therapy. J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2012 May;23(5):473-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8167.2011.02264.x. Epub 2012 Mar 19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22429764↵
- Neale, T. Yoga May Calm Afib. MedscapeToday.com. Jan 23, 2013. Last accessed Jan 23, 2014. URL:http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Arrhythmias/37121↵
- Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Your Health, Fall 2014.↵
- Lucile, H. (DrHollyLucille.com) Natural remedy for anxiety, Bottom Line Health, April, 2014, p. 16.↵
- Whitaker, J. PharmaGABA Chewables for Immediate Stress Relief. Whitaker Wellness Institute website. Last accessed March 29, 2014. URL: http://www.whitakerwellness.com/pharmagaba/↵
- Whitaker, J. Innovations in Wellness Medicine, Natural Solutions for Stress Relief. Dr. Whitaker’s Health & Healing, March 2015, Vol. 25, No. 3.↵
- Starbuck, Jamison. The Natural Way/No More Drugs for Anxiety. Bottom Line Health, Volume 29, Number 10, October 2015, p. 10.↵