Did you know that you have a 25% chance that your heart could go out of rhythm at any point in your life? That’s right, one in four American adults will experience an episode of atrial fibrillation (A-fib) in their life . Did you know that if this happens to you, it could lead to stroke or heart failure? The good news is that if you are living a healthy lifestyle, the odds of this happening to you go way down. Also encouraging is the fact that A-fib is easily preventable and reversible.
What is Atrial Fibrillation (A-fib)?
A-fib is an abnormal heart rhythm. With A-fib, the upper chambers of the heart beat very fast and chaotic. This cardiac electrical abnormality of the upper chambers typically causes the lower chamber of the heart to also beat fast and chaotic. As the upper chambers of the heart are no longer beating properly, you lose about 20% of the total pumping function of the heart
How do I know if I have A-fib?
The easiest way to know if you have A-fib is to check your pulse. If your pulse is fast and irregular you probably have A-fib. Your doctor could do a simple EKG or put a heart monitor on you to confirm whether or not you have this condition. There are now even FDA approved heart monitors for smartphones now that can record your EKG for your physician to review (www.alivecor.com
). It has never been easier to make this diagnosis.
What are the A-fib symptoms?
The two main symptoms my patients report to me are fatigue and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include chest discomfort, dizziness, lightheadedness, and palpitations.Amazingly, most people with A-fib do not even feel it! This is particularly common in elderly and sedentary people. Younger and more active people are much more likely to notice the 20% to 30% loss in cardiac function with A-fib.
A-Fib is on the Rise
I used to believe that A-fib just represented “normal wear and tear” on the heart over time and that it was an inevitable part of the “normal” aging process.
Atrial fibrillation is now one of the main medical conditions that I treat in my practice. I remember back to when I graduated from medical school in 1995, when we rarely saw A-fib in anyone younger than 60. A-fib was just a disease of the elderly—something you get when you get old. Now it is common to see patients in their 20s, 30s, or 40s with A-fib. Along with the many other epidemics that are on the dramatic rise, such as diabetes, obesity and heart failure, we are truly witnessing an epidemic of new A-fib cases. Are we now aging prematurely in the U.S.? What is going on?
Why is A-fib so common in the U.S.?
North America is clearly the A-fib capital of the world. Europeans, South Americans, Africans, and Asians, among others, have dramatically lower A-fib rates than the U.S. Interestingly, A-fib is ten times more common in America than in Asia . Yet, when the Asians come to America, their risk increases to meet our risk level . Clearly, lifestyle choices are at play here.
A-fib risk in rural China
Through not-so-healthy lifestyle choices of my own - processed foods, high sugar intake, sitting all day, being overweight - I hit my own medical crisis in my mid-40s. Like most Americans, I was metabolically aging 15 years faster than even our parents’ generation--just one generation ago . I had developed multiple chronic medical problems and was on five medications.
Out of desperation, I finally began searching for real answers rather than just patching up the problems or taking more medications. I ultimately found my answer in the most unlikely of places - a remote mountainous village in Southwest China historically cut off from the rest of the world.
In China’s Longevity Village, our research team has observed that these people can live exceedingly long, healthy, and productive lives well into their 80s, 90s, 100s and beyond.
Among the centenarians of this rural Chinese region of Bama, which has now been the focus of my research for the last three years, A-fib affects 3% of the people
based on a screening EKG. Contrast that with screening EKG studies in the U.S. where 27% of centenarians have A-fib—an approximately ten-fold increase.
They largely escape not only A-fib, but other chronic medical conditions from which we commonly suffer, including: obesity, diabetes, dementia, and heart failure.
These people grow their own naturally organic foods with simple hand tools often well into their 100s. As centenarians, they maintain the ability to move and contribute to their family, and declare that this is the best time in their lives.
The findings of our research team and the principles we observed that allowed these people in China’s Longevity Village to escape common medical problems of “aging” will be shared in an upcoming book scheduled for publication in late, 2015. To learn more about these people and the upcoming book, please watch this book trailer
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What causes A-fib and how can it be reversed?
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