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Most of us beyond a certain age have experienced heart palpitations, where our heart literally pounds in our chest.
They may come when we’re stressed, or after or during heavy exercise.
But your run-of-the-mill heart palpitations are different from a more serious heart irregularity known as atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
In this post, I’ll describe ways you can tell the difference…
But first, I’d like to tell you a bit more about AFib, and about some research showing how a vitamin you may already be taking could reduce your risk for this serious condition.
What is AFib?
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common heart arrhythmia (an irregular or abnormal heartbeat).
Quite simply, the cause of AFib is a “misfire” of electrical signals to the heart. This misfire causes the heart’s upper chambers (the atria) to beat at an abnormally fast pace. Blood pools in the atria, rather than moving to the lower chambers as it should.
This stagnant blood can form clots, and if one of those clots breaks free and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke. The risk of this happening is greater the older we get.
Vitamin D might prevent AFib
Past research has shown that Vitamin D supports the electrical functioning of the heart.
That’s why the results of a recently published study aren’t all that surprising.
They suggest that vitamin D, taken in the right dosage, may very well prevent atrial fibrillation.
The Finnish Vitamin D Trial, or FIND, was conducted at the University of Finland from 2012 to 2018.
The researchers knew that vitamin D deficiency was associated with higher atrial fibrillation risk. But to their surprise, they’d found only limited evidence that taking vitamin D supplements could lower that risk.
The 2,495 study participants were men 60 years or older and women 65 and older. Subjects were randomly divided into three groups:
- one placebo group
- one group taking 40 micrograms (1600 IU) of vitamin D daily
- another group taking 80 micrograms (3200 IU) of vitamin D daily
Over the five-year study period, the risk of atrial fibrillation was 27 percent lower in the 40 micrograms group, and 32 percent lower in the 80 micrograms group, when compared to the placebo group.
According to the researchers, further confirmation of their results is needed before doses of vitamin D that significantly exceed current recommendations can be recommended for preventing atrial fibrillation.
Is it palpitations or AFib?
It’s important to know how to differentiate between “normal” heart palpitations and a potentially life-threatening problem.
The easiest way to distinguish between the two is to pay close attention to your heartbeat.
With atrial fibrillation, your heartbeat will be very erratic. On the other hand, palpitations make your heart speed up, but in a steady pattern, and will slowly return to normal.
- If you are in a tense or anxious situation, it may be heart palpitations. Under stress, your brain releases hormones that can make your heart beat faster.
- Consider your age and general health. If you have a thyroid condition, you may be at a greater risk of AFib. The same applies if you are over the age of 65.
- Pay attention to the symptoms. Palpitations caused by AFib typically last longer than those brought on by anxiety. They may also be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea and sweating.
If your heartbeat changes erratically without warning or apparent reason, and if it’s accompanied by chest pain or difficulty breathing, seek medical help immediately.
Never be embarrassed or hesitant that it “might be nothing.” If it is, you’ll have peace of mind. But if it isn’t, you could end up saving your own life.
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