How high blood pressure can lead to AFib
Atrial fibrillation is an electrical problem, and it often exists independently of other heart conditions. But while it may not lead to a heart attack or other critical consequences to the heart muscle, there is a link between AFib and more general cardiovascular concerns, particularly high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of AFib in adults. Both disorders tend to manifest after middle age, and both can be traced to poor habits or unhealthy lifestyles. Simply having high blood pressure won’t guarantee that you’ll develop AFib, but the link is too strong to ignore: hypertension can damage your tissues and heart muscle in ways that can eventually disrupt your heart’s electrical impulse.
Another common element of hypertension and AFib is a significantly higher risk of stroke: about 75% of people who have a stroke also have high blood pressure. In turn, it’s vital that you adopt a targeted treatment plan and positive lifestyle changes as early as possible to avoid serious complications.
How does high blood pressure cause AFib?
When your blood is pushing hard against your arterial walls for a long period of time, your risk of developing AFib climbs considerably. There are a few reasons to explain this link:
Arterial wear and tear. Your arteries are flexible, and they can handle quite a lot. But when they’re under too much pressure, the force will weaken the artery walls, then narrow them, and ultimately impede normal blood flow. When blood can’t flow as it should, the heart muscle will function less efficiently. In fact, low blood flow (ischemia) that’s traced to damaged arteries can interfere with your heart’s electrical signals.
Structural changes. High blood pressure forces your heart to pump harder and harder. When your heart is pushed to the limit for too long, the muscle doesn’t get stronger – it gets thicker and stiffer. Electrical signals can’t move as easily through a less flexible, enlarged heart muscle, and that could lead to AFib.
The longer you go with high blood pressure, the more likely you are to develop AFib. Failing to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range (120/80 mm Hg is ideal), especially after middle age, may be the single most counterproductive measure to controlling or preventing a heart rhythm disorder.
Managing your symptoms for long-term health
You certainly want to keep your heart muscle healthy, but you need to think about your whole-body health, too. Reducing your elevated stroke risk should be a top priority when you live with AFib and high blood pressure. After all, hypertension doubles your stroke risk and AFib raises as much as five times higher than average.
Fortunately, you have tools to control both conditions. Once you know your blood pressure numbers and the nature of your AFib, you can compile an action plan with the help of your doctor’s advice and treatment options. There are a few steps to keep in mind that should help you reduce your health risks – and your symptoms.
1. Take medical advice and guidance seriously. Your doctor’s orders aren’t simply suggestions, they’re strict guidelines to keep you alive and well. Your treatment plan probably involves medication to control the disorders – perhaps blood thinners for AFib, and a different drug to target the hypertension – and that’s an important line of defense.
Medication isn’t something to stop taking when the symptoms go away, and the specific amount and combination of medication isn’t arbitrary: your doctor chose this treatment plan carefully, and you need to trust in their expertise and stick to the plan.
2. Commit to a better lifestyle. AFib and high blood pressure can hit healthy people, but in many cases, there’s a lifestyle element that’s making the problem worse. Examine your diet and activity level honestly and take steps to improve it. Cutting down on salt and alcohol (less than one drink per day for women and less than two drinks per day for men) is easier than you might think, and once you start exercising regularly, it stops feeling like a chore. Weight loss may reduce blood pressure and episodes of AFib.
3. Watch for signs of trouble. Drug interactions aren’t uncommon, and they can be very dangerous. If you’re noticing worrying side effects from your prescribed medications, don’t hesitate to report them to your doctor. But vitamins and over-the-counter medications can also cause trouble, even though they seem harmless.
In some cases, a supplement could make your other medication less effective, or even react negatively. For instance, warfarin (commonly prescribed for AFib) can lose effectiveness if you take in too much vitamin K, and blood pressure can rise with NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen (over the counter pain medication).
4. Relax regularly. Stress is very often to blame for AFib episodes, and it’s a known factor behind high blood pressure. It can also cause a host of other mental and physical problems, so the less stress you carry around with you, the better it is for your body. Daily stress relief can have a significant impact on how you experience and control your cardiovascular disorders.
Progressive muscle relaxation and yoga are great ways to introduce stress relief into your daily routine, but there are also other kinds of therapy – from colouring books to mindfulness meditation – that can help you stay relaxed day in and day out. Exercise is often hailed as the best way to decrease stress, so find a workout you enjoy and do it as often as you can.
AFib ablation may be an option
If you can get rid of your AFib, your hypertension may be easier to treat. In turn, your doctor may suggest an invasive procedure, such as a catheter ablation to eliminate the AFib.
Likewise, reducing your blood pressure can help you better control your AFib, and that generally comes down to good self care and the right course of medication. In any case, your doctor is an important ally: talk openly about your concerns, your options, and your treatments on a regular basis.