February 1, 2023

Her heart was telling her something wasn’t right

When a Kaiser Permanente member discovered she had an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, her cardiologist helped reduce her risk of stroke.

A-fib is a type of irregular heartbeat that can increase the risk of various heart-related complications, including stroke.

Harriet, a retiree and longtime Kaiser Permanente member, had always been active and healthy. However, her family history of heart disease made her extra vigilant about her own heart health.

So, when she noticed her heart was beating faster than normal on a regular basis, she knew she needed to see a doctor right away.

Reema Chugh, MD, Harriet’s cardiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center, told her that she had atrial fibrillation, or A-fib. A-fib is a type of irregular heartbeat that can increase the risk of stroke and other heart-related complications.

“I was shocked and scared,” said Harriet (who asked that her last name not be shared to protect her privacy). “But everyone at Kaiser Permanente was so patient and kind.”

‘Grateful for the excellent care’

An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, is when your heart beats too fast, too slow, or in an uneven, irregular rhythm. A-fib is a type of arrhythmia that can cause blood to pool in the 2 upper chambers of the heart (called the atria). Pooled blood is more likely to form clots. These clots can travel to the brain and block blood flow, resulting in a stroke.

Signs of stroke include numbness or weakness on one side of your body, confusion, or a drooping face. If you have these symptoms, get medical attention right away.

According to the American Heart Association, people are more likely to develop A-fib as they age. About 2% of people in their 60s and 9% of people in their 80s have the condition.

"Dr. Chugh took the time to explain everything to me and made sure I understood what was happening,” said Harriet. “I’m so grateful for the excellent care.”

Managing A-fib

Harriet began taking a prescribed blood thinner every day to prevent blood clots from forming in her heart and reduce her risk of stroke.

She also made lifestyle changes. She joined health education classes for nutrition and stress management at the Center for Healthy Living in Southern California. She started eating a healthier diet, focusing on lean protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables. And she started exercising more, with regular brisk walks.

“As a health care professional, I find it so fulfilling when people make lifestyle choices that complement medications and interventions,” said Dr. Chugh. “Especially when they result in good health and a better quality of life like they did for Harriet.”

Follow these tips to maintain a healthy heart

Cutting back on alcohol can significantly reduce your risk of A-fib. And if you have sleep apnea, talk with your doctor about treatment options. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can greatly increase your likelihood of developing A-fib.

Here are more tips for maintaining a healthy heart:

  • Eat high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
  • Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Quit tobacco.
  • Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Get regular checkups and screenings.
  • Take the medications your doctor prescribes.

With the right care and attention, you can reduce your risk of A-fib and other heart conditions.

“I’ve learned that taking small steps can go a long way to improving my health,” said Harriet. “I want to share that with others so they can take care of their hearts too.”

Learn more about taking care of your heart health.