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Atrial Fibrillation (cont.)

What Increases Your Risk

A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting sick or having a problem. Risk factors for atrial fibrillation include:

  • Age older than 60.
  • Being white and male.
  • Obesity.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • A family history of atrial fibrillation.
  • Certain other health problems can cause atrial fibrillation. For a list of these problems, see Cause.

Lifestyle choices

You may have certain habits that increase your risk for atrial fibrillation because they can cause wear and tear on your heart. These lifestyle choices include:

  • Long-term, heavy alcohol use, or drinking a large amount of alcohol at one time (binge drinking).
  • Use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamines.
  • Too much caffeine.
  • Smoking.

When to Call a Doctor

Call or other emergency services immediately if you:

  • Have symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, and nausea.
  • Have symptoms of a stroke, such as sudden vision changes; trouble speaking; or numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face or an arm or a leg.
  • Feel faint and have an irregular heartbeat.

If you see someone pass out, call or other emergency services immediately.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • An irregular heart rate.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Periods of unexplained lightheadedness, dizziness, or confusion.
  • An episode of fainting or you come close to fainting for no apparent reason.
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise.

If you take a blood thinner

If you take blood-thinning medicine, such as an anticoagulant or aspirin, watch for signs of bleeding.

Call if:

  • You cough up blood.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
  • You have a sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches. (It may be a sign of bleeding in the brain.)

Call your doctor right away if:

  • You have new bruises or blood spots under your skin.
  • You have a nosebleed that doesn't stop quickly.
  • Your gums bleed when you brush your teeth.
  • You have blood in your urine.
  • Your stools are black and look like tar or have streaks of blood.
  • You have heavy period bleeding or vaginal bleeding when you are not having your period.

If you are injured, apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Realize that it will take longer than you are used to for the bleeding to stop. If you can't get the bleeding to stop, call your doctor.

Who to see

The following health professionals can detect, diagnose and, in some cases, treat atrial fibrillation:

The following specialists can treat people who have severe symptoms:

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eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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