It is absolutely the healthiest activity you can do for your heart, so imagine exercising intensely for a decade, cycling at least 25 hours a week- and then finding
out you have, of all things, a heart problem.
That’s what happened to a young guy. At the age of 26, he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or AFib.
It’s a heart rhythm disorder that increases your risk of a stroke or heart failure. Hence working out needs to be monitored since AFib is killing nearly 40 percent more Americans (especially Black men) than it did just two decades ago.
For this young man, it announced itself with “palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath,” he says. The diagnosis was frustrating since he led a healthy life.
Now he’s a researcher at Stanford University and the University of Valencia, seeking to fill a gap in modern medical knowledge.
Currently, experts can’t pinpoint who will get AFib or how dangerous it will be, and Dr. Sanchis-Gomar is furiously trying to identify genetic markers that can help change that.
That’s critical because the earlier you catch it, the more treatment options you have, from meds and surgery to simple lifestyle tweaks. To understand how to prevent and detect it, you need to know how things should go in your heart and what goes wrong.
Typically, the heart’s electrical system coordinates your heartbeats’ rate and rhythm, which pump blood through the chambers. When someone has AFib, those circuits become faulty, says cardiologist Aseem Desai, M.D., author of Restart Your Heart: The Playbook for Thriving with AFib.
“The chambers on the top quiver, beating rapidly and out of sync with the bottom two chambers.” You might have palpitations-anything from flutters to thumps- or become
dizzy, tired, light-headed, or short of breath.
Some guys feel fatigued; others feel nothing. AFib episodes can weaken the heart, which can be fatal.
Researchers like Northwestern University’s Sadiya. Khan, M.D., isn’t sure what’s causing
the recent increase in deaths- they’re grasping at rising obesity rates and increased stress.
But what is clear now is that the following precautions and preemptive practices can
keep your risk for AFib down and help you detect it early.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
Today, many guys are spotting signs of AFib early thanks to heart-monitoring apps and alerts on smartwatches.
They’ve been useful since AFib is episodic and won’t show up on an EKG unless it’s
happening right as the test is being taken. If you see an abnormal-pulse alert, call
your doctor but don’t panic.
Mayo Clinic research found that only about 15 percent of people who received this
alert from an Apple Watch required treatment.
CHECK FOR SLEEP APNEA
This is likely an underrecognized AFib risk factor in young and obese men, says
The drop in oxygen when you stop breathing at night can trigger AFib episodes
and alter the electrical system in your heart over time.
“I’ve had patients who have failed every treatment for AFibthatwe have, and finally when someone discovers they have sleep apnea and they’re treated, the A-Fib goes away,” he says.
IF YOU’VE BEEN DIAGNOSED
“There used to be this notion that AFib was an incurable disease and that there weren’t really a lot of treatment options out there,” says Dr. Desai.
“That’s completely untrue.” Your options will depend on the frequency and severity of your AFib. Common treatments include:
Anti-arrhythmic drugs can be administered through a pill or IV to bring your heart’s rhythm back in order and/or prevent episodes.
You may also get blood thinners to reduce your stroke risk.
This procedure, used for people with continuous A-Fib, is administered in a hospital and shocks your heart back into a rhythm through electrodes placed on your chest.
It’s essential to know about this: One review in the Journal of the American
College of Cardiology suggests that Black and Hispanic people with AFib are less likely than white men to receive cardioversion. If your doctor doesn’t mention this option, ask!
► CATHETER ABLATION
Through a tiny tube, a doctor applies either extreme heat or cold to tiny areas of your
heart, scarring locations that were making your electrical signals go haywire.
Dr. Sanchis-Gomar had this at age 34, and at 42, he’s symptom-free.
► ON THE HORIZON: A QUICK FIX FOR EPISODES
“Patients in the U.S. have no real options to have their hearts return to a normal rhythm within a few minutes,” says Grace Colon, Ph.D., president and CEO of lnCarda Therapeutics.
The company is working on an oral, inhalable version of an existing drug (flecainide)
that can reach the heart quickly to stabilize its rhythm.
lnCarda estimates approval is a couple of years away.
Can You Exercise With Atrial Fibrillation
There’s a U-shaped curve withAFib-people who don’t exercise are at higher risk, people who exercise moderately tend to have the lowest risk, and then there’s that troublesome issue of the highly trained athletes like Dr. Sanchis-Gomar, who are also at higher risk for
If you don’t often exercise, definitely aim to meet the American Heart Association’s recommendation of150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
Is It Safe To Exercise With Atrial Fibrillation
If you are an endurance athlete, it can’t hurt to check-in with a heart specialist and run through any risk factors until research like Dr. Sanchis-Gomar’s comes up with a better way to identify AFib.