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By Allison J. Kean, MD — This post originally appeared on Get Healthy Stay Healthy

With continued improvements in life-saving therapies, it’s no surprise that we’re living longer. As we get older, though, there is a higher likelihood that certain health problems will develop. Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall spoke about one of those conditions recently on The Doctors—atrial fibrillation. Also known as AFib, atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm that affects approximately 6.4 million people in the U.S. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop this heart condition—along with its resulting health problems, such as stroke.

Doctors don’t always screen patients for AFib. Sometimes, it’s detected during a trip to the emergency room or a regular doctor’s visit, but it’s also up to you to make sure you get tested. So it’s important that you know the symptoms of AFib, which can include palpitations (the sensation of a racing or irregular heart beat), chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or weakness and fatigue. These symptoms can occur infrequently or more regularly. If you think you or someone in your family may have AFib, here’s what you can do:

  • Find out if you're at risk. Your risk of AFib may be higher if you have high blood pressure or a history of heart disease such as heart failure, a prior heart attack, or abnormal heart valves. Underlying lung disease or metabolic disorders such as thyroid disease may also play a role. The use of alcohol, caffeine, or medications with stimulant effects may also increase your risk of AFib.
  • Track your symptoms. Keep a record of your symptoms. Note when they occur, what causes them to come on or go away, how long they last, and how often they occur. Also, keep track of other medical conditions you may have and their effect on your symptoms.
  • Talk with your doctor. After discussing your symptoms and completing a physical examination, your doctor may order some tests. These may include blood work, an ECG (electrocardiogram, which is a tracing of the heart’s electrical rhythm), and possibly a chest X-ray.

Allison Kean, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.H.A., is Pfizer Global Medical Director

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