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Take it from Howie Mandel: Atrial fibrillation is a dangerous deal

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Host Howie Mandel gestures at the panel for the NBC television show "Deal Or No Deal" at the Television Critics Association summer 2006 media tour. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Howie Mandel wants to make you a deal: Learn about atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, and you may just save a life.

In an interview with Healthline, the famed game show host spoke about his own experience living with the condition. Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, and it affects nearly 6 million Americans. It can raise your risk of stroke by up to five times.

Mandel said he recently learned about his condition during a regular checkup. Although he hadn't been feeling well, he suspected it was a consequence of his busy lifestyle. 

“I do 300 live tapes a year. I was on a plane every day, in a different time zone, sleeping at different times," he said. "I felt lightheaded and dizzy and tired.”

What the doctor told him “scared the s--t out of me,” he said. “The guy takes a stethoscope and puts it to my chest and says, 'Uh oh,' and that's one word you never want to hear twice.”

Explore the Human Heart in 3D

A Funny Man with a Fluttering Heart
Mandel, though physically fit, funny, and a fast talker, fits the profile of a person who may be affected by A-fib.

The actor, whose hit TBS show Deal With It returns March 14, is 58 years old. A-fib mainly affects people 60 and older.

In the case of A-fib, the heart chambers, called the atria and ventricles, don't coordinate properly. The atria move so fast that they don't fully contract, causing a quiver that some patients feel and some don't.

People with A-fib can have their hearts race as fast as 350 beats per minute, four times faster than the average of 80 beats per minute. When Mandel received his diagnosis, his heart was pumping 170 times per minute.

“There was something knocking at my chest telling me, 'Hey, check this out,'” Mandel said. “I feel blessed for whatever reason that they found it, so I'm telling others about it. It is a manageable condition and is common, but it is dangerous if you don't take care of it.”

'Fibs or Facts' Campaign
To that end, Mandel has become the face of the “Fibs or Facts” campaign conducted by Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, manufacturers of medications for A-fib. Although the paid spokesman declined to talk about his own medical treatment, he noted that plenty of options are available for people living with A-fib.

Medication can treat A-fib by preventing blood from clotting or by controlling heart rate. Medical procedures to treat A-fib include cardioversion (controlled electrical stimulation to shock the heart into a regular rhythm), or having a pacemaker implanted.

Lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and giving up alcohol and smoking are also beneficial.

Learn More: Eating for a Healthy Heart

Symptoms of A-fib include dizziness, feeling faint, anxiety, and sweating, but some patients don't feel any physical symptoms at all.

“It's easy to say 'I don't feel anything,' and just go on in life,” said Mandel, who runs seven miles a day. “But your body is a fine-tuned machine that has to be taken care of like you take care of a car or any prized possession. See your doctor regularly.”

Mandel wants everyone to visit FibsOrFacts.com and take a quiz to familiarize themselves with A-fib. For each quiz completed, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb will donate $1 to the National Stroke Association, up to $25,000.

Stay Fit, Get Treated
Atrial fibrillation can be complicated by other heart problems, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

Tim Arkebauer, a 55-year-old Rock Island, Ill., man living with A-fib, has had a difficult time recently. He has other heart problems, too, and wears a pacemaker. He has undergone cardioversion four times and takes medication every day.

He admits to being overweight and knows it doesn't help. “Once I'm in rhythm, I feel great, I really do,” he told Healthline. “A-fib is extremely common, so I'm glad it's being talked about, being communicated, and people are being evaluated.”

Learn All You Need to Know About A-fib