|The irregular heartbeat of atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and clot in the heart, especially in the part of the heart called the left atrial appendage. If a blood clot breaks loose and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke. If you have atrial fibrillation, your doctor can describe the treatment options that are available so that you can reduce your risk for stroke.
People who have atrial fibrillation (Afib or AF) are at a much higher risk for stroke than those who have a normal heartbeat. The heart's normal electrical rhythm causes first the top chambers (the atria) and then the upper chambers (the ventricles) to contract. This action allows blood to pump through the body. In Afib, the top heart chambers experience abnormal activity and are, therefore, quivering (fibrillating). As a result, blood can pool in the heart, where it can potentially form a clot. If the blood clot travels (embolus) to the person’s brain, a stroke can occur. The type of stroke brought about by a blood clot (including a blood clot caused by Afib) is known as an ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes account for nearly 90 percent of all strokes.
Having Afib is a significant risk factor for stroke. Why is this worrisome? The symptoms of Afib may vary, and it is not uncommon for people to be unaware that they have Afib and that they are at risk for stroke. Fortunately, awareness of Afib and the options for managing Afib are improving. If you or someone you care for has Afib, you will work closely with your healthcare team to manage the condition, consider the treatment options and reduce the risk for stroke.
Act F.A.S.T. – Signs of Stroke Should Prompt FAST Action
Everyone should know the symptoms of a stroke and seek medical help immediately if the symptoms arise – in themselves or in someone they are with. During a stroke, seconds count. The faster the patient is treated, the greater the chance that a stroke can be stopped, possibly saving the patient’s life and preventing damage to the brain tissue that can result in disability.
To help us identify the signs of a stroke and know when to seek prompt medical attention, the American Stroke Association developed F.A.S.T., an easy-to-remember guide for spotting a stroke.
F – Face drooping. Is one side of the person’s face drooping or numb? When he or she smiles, is the smile uneven?
A – Arm weakness. Is the person experiencing weakness or numbness in one arm? Have the person raise both arms. Does one of the arms drift downward?
S – Speech difficulty. Is the person’s speech suddenly slurred or hard to understand? Is he or she unable to speak? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Can he or she repeat it back?
T – Time to call 9-1-1. If any of these symptoms are present, dial 9-1-1 immediately. Check the time so you can report when the symptoms began.
Managing Atrial Fibrillation to Prevent Stroke
Because Afib is a condition that can exist throughout an individual’s life, it is crucial to know the symptoms of a stroke and to follow the treatment plan set up by the team of doctors, nurses and other healthcare specialists. Depending on what is causing the atrial fibrillation, how severe it is and whether there are other risk factors for stroke, doctors may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes, medications or a procedure. Learn more about how Afib is managed here.
To learn more about stroke, including health problems and lifestyle factors that can contribute to risk, and how doctors diagnose and treat strokes as quickly as possible to save brain tissue, visit the SecondsCount Stroke Center.