Flipping, racing, skipping, and flopping. You are having a typical day when you suddenly notice a weird sensation in your chest. You might feel weak, tired, dizzy, or confused. You have been recently diagnosed with AFib and are having an attack. But what now? Is there something you can do on the spot to stop the weird and scary feeling of an AFib attack?
How can I tell if I’m in AFib?
Most people with AFib can tell that their heart is not beating at a normal rhythm. You can attempt to find out if you are in AFib by bringing attention to your heartbeat, which is felt in your pulse. Follow the steps below to get a better idea of what your heart is doing:
- Feel for your radial pulse, which is best felt on the inside of your wrist below your thumb. Alternatively, you can find your carotid pulse on the side of your neck, just below your jawline.
- Position your index and middle finger gently on the pulse.
- A normal heart rhythm will feel regular, as though beating to a drum. Typically, your heart will pump 60-100 times a minute.
- A heart in AFib will have irregular beats, with some feeling stronger and others feeling weak. A heart in AFib will often beat over 140 times a minute.
Note: Keep in mind, that there are other abnormal heart rhythms. Therefore, the only accurate diagnostic tool for AFib is an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), which tracks the heart’s electrical signals. If you have not been properly diagnosed, visit your healthcare practitioner.
How do I stop an AFib episode at home?
AFib episodes typically come on suddenly and without warning. They can be highly anxiety-provoking, especially for those who have never experienced them. Managing an AFib attack will depend on your health history. If you have never been told that you have AFib and suspect you are having an episode, please seek immediate medical help. Many heart problems can mimic AFib symptoms, including a heart attack. Time is of the essence with heart attacks, so don’t try to manage them at home.
If you have a history of AFib, however, there are many things that you can try at home to stop an AFib episode fast. Here’s what you will want to do during an AFib attack:
While it’s completely normal to feel anxious when your heart is not beating normally, anxiety and heart arrhythmias don’t go well together. When you feel fear, your body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, to help ward off the impending stress. Unfortunately, these stress hormones cause blood pressure to rise and can worsen AFib symptoms. Studies have found that high cortisol levels in the blood can trigger an AFib episode. The following two relaxation techniques may help stop an AFib episode quickly.
Breath is life, and yet we often remain unaware of this powerful healing tool. Breathing brings life-giving oxygen into the body and helps calm over-excited cells and organs. Studies have shown that deep breathing may help alleviate heart arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation.
If you suddenly go into AFib, find a quiet place to sit or lie down and practice a few deep, mindful breaths. Place one hand on the chest and one hand on the abdomen. Breathe in slowly while watching your stomach stretch out. Imagine the incoming air wrapping a gentle hug around your heart, calming it down. Then, with the out-breath, imagine all of the stress and disease leaving your body.
Yoga is an ancient healing practice that has been around for centuries. Multiple studies have demonstrated the positive effects of yoga on AFib patients. In one recent study, researchers found that regular yoga sessions cut atrial fibrillation episodes almost in half.
If you are experiencing an AFib episode at home, a few gentle yoga postures may be enough to stop your symptoms. One of the simplest yoga poses to try during an AFib attack is Viparita Karani, also called Legs Up the Wall Pose:
- Lie down on the floor with your feet facing a wall, using a pillow or a blanket for comfort
- Place your feet on the wall, scooting your bottom as close to the wall as you can
- Allow your legs to extend as they rest against the wall
- Relax and surrender, taking slow breaths as you remain with your legs elevated on the wall
Stimulate the vagus nerve
Vagus is Latin for wandering, and the name is apt, as this nerve is the longest in the human body. The vagus nerve originates in the brain and runs all the way to the torso, communicating messages throughout the body, including to and from the heart, stomach, and lungs. The vagus nerve counterbalances stress, hijacking the “fight or flight” response. Interestingly, it may also help stop an AFib episode dead in its tracks.
The exact mechanism that causes AFib is not known. However, some suggest vagus nerve involvement. Some patients are diagnosed with vagal AFib, a type of atrial fibrillation caused by poor vagal tone. Recent studies have shown promise in the treatment of AFib utilizing vagus nerve stimulation.
Stimulating the vagus nerve may help stop an Afib episode. Try one of these vagal maneuvers:
- Forceful and sustained coughing
- Placing a cold washcloth or splash cold water on the face
- Bearing down as though you are having a bowel movement
- Loud humming or singing
- Holding your breath
The last thing you might think of doing during an AFib episode is exercising, but it might just be the jolt your body needs to jumpstart the heart back to a normal rhythm. In a small study, researchers found that some individuals with AFib reverted to a normal rhythm with exercise alone.
Doing ten jumping jacks or briskly walking up a flight of stairs may help stop an AFib episode at home.
The suggestions above might stop an acute AFib episode at home, but you’ll want to consider making long-term changes to your lifestyle as well. Only sustained changes will ensure that you keep atrial fibrillation from returning again and again. Altering your diet, reducing stress, eliminating toxins, practicing regular exercise, and prioritizing quality sleep will all help to keep AFib at bay.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD