Lifestyle Health Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Speaks About His Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosis, Importance of Getting Your Heart Checked "I hope that my coming out and talking about this will help people understand what they need to do to protect their health," the basketball legend tells PEOPLE By Stephanie Emma Pfeffer Stephanie Emma Pfeffer Stephanie Emma Pfeffer is a writer and editor at PEOPLE, where she has been covering health and fitness since 2013. She has her Master's degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and spends her free time running marathons and trying to get her kids to eat their vegetables. People Editorial Guidelines Published on February 16, 2023 07:41 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Courtesy of No Time To Wait campaign on behalf of Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remembers feeling like something was off. "I started noticing symptoms about two or three years ago," he tells PEOPLE. "I was having irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and had no energy or stamina. I couldn't walk more than 30 yards without having to sit down and rest to catch my breath." When the symptoms went away, he dismissed them. "I thought it was a temporary issue," says the basketball legend, 75. "I had been an athlete and was in shape, so I felt it wasn't going to bother me for any length of time. But I was quite wrong." J.J. Watt Reveals He Had Heart 'Shocked Back Into Rhythm' Thursday, Says 'I'm Playing Today' A few months later he was at an Los Angeles Dodgers game when he started feeling ill. "I was sitting in the sun and the sun seemed to suck all of the air out of my chest," he says. "I tried to get up from my seat and head to my car and while people were helping me to my car, I collapsed and almost crashed into the Dodgers trophy case." Courtesy of No Time To Wait campaign on behalf of Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer Immediately he went to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications, according to the American Heart Association. Symptoms include irregular heartbeat, heart racing, chest pain, shortness of breath, light-headedness and fatigue. "The shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat are things that come and go but in the long-term, this is considered life threatening and people need to know about it," says Abdul-Jabbar, who has teamed up with Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer's "No Time to Wait" campaign to raise awareness of AFib symptoms and encourage people to see a doctor if they experience any signs. "It's absolutely necessary for people to get checked by a doctor, and I hope that my coming out and talking about this will help people understand what they need to do to protect their health," Abdul-Jabbar says. One of the biggest concerns with AFib is the risk of stroke, according to No Time to Wait. People with AFib have approximately 5 times greater risk of stroke than those who do not have AFib. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Admits to a Strained Relationship with LeBron James: 'I Blame Myself' Abdul-Jabbar manages his condition with medication and certain exercise therapies but says his physical activities are somewhat limited. "There are things that I thought I should be able to do that I can't do," he says. "I was able to go for long walks and swim and all the things that I've enjoyed most of my life. Once this AFib got a hold of me, it was a different story." "It affects people from all walks of life — even somebody who thinks they're a great athlete and immune to it," he says. "It happens to us, too. It's not something you can just dismiss."