Could this make you more likely to have an irregular heartbeat?

A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests that women over the age of 45 who have experienced a traumatic or disturbing events could at higher risk for developing Afib. Some examples of traumatic events include the death of a loved one, a disaster, being the victim of a crime or an accident, or other events that can cause extreme stress.

Experiencing stress is an unavoidable and normal part of life, but acute or chronic stress caused by a traumatic event can increase the likelihood of a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation.

“While more research is needed, it is believed this type of stress can be added to conditions that can possibly trigger a condition like AFib,” says Dr. Imran Sheikh, a cardiology and electrophysiology doctor at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, Wis. “And the chances of developing it may increase with traumatic life events by as much as 37%.” Studies indicate that if you have AFib, stress may worsen your condition.

Afib can be a serious condition. It can increase the risk of stroke or heart failure. Experts think you may be especially at risk for Afib if you already have secondary heart health factors, such as high blood pressure, that may also affect blood flow in the heart.

“While we can’t always control negative life events and our natural bodily reactions to them,” says Dr. Sheikh, “you can learn how to control your heart disease risk factors with healthy lifestyle choices and manage stress that can affect your heart.”

Here are some ways to manage your stress levels that could contribute to long-term heart health:

  • Practice stress reduction techniques: “Regular physical activity, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga are great examples,” Dr. Sheikh says. A study published in the Journal of Arrhythmia showed that those with AFib who practiced yoga twice a week reduced their blood pressure and heart rate. Learning to relax is one of the most important deterrents to heart disease. You can find ways to manage your stress, including making an appointment with a stress management health professional here if you live in Wisconsin or here if you live in Illinois.
  • Develop a support system: Turn to family members, trusted friends, a health professional, or support group for emotional support to accept your feelings, avoid obsessive thinking and cope with the stress of a traumatic event.
  • Create a self-care routine: “Be sure to get enough sleep and proper nutrition, manage your weight, and avoid self-medicating with alcohol,” Dr. Sheikh says. “Make time for your relationships and yourself. Simply your life by concentrating on only the most important things.”

Schedule regular visits with your doctor, and be sure to report if you experience irregular heartbeat, racing, or palpitations; shortness of breath; weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, or dizziness; or chest pain.

Many women have no symptoms of AFib. Therefore, it’s important to assess risk factors that make you more likely to develop AFib, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea, abnormal heart valves, or a family history of heart disease. Afib can be treated with medication, procedures, or lifestyle changes that you can discuss with your healthcare professional.

Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free, quick online risk assessment by clicking here.

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