A stroke is a major, life-threatening emergency that occurs when blood flow to the brain gets blocked or interrupted. Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib, is a common heart condition that dramatically increases your risk of stroke. The good news is that many treatments can help you manage AFib and lower your chance of stroke.
The sinus node in your heart creates electrical signals that tell it when to contract, causing a heartbeat. AFib occurs when this node abnormally sends electrical signals and leads the upper chambers of your heart, or atria, to beat irregularly. Symptoms vary from person to person, but the most common symptom is a fluttering heartbeat. Others include weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Some people with AFib even report not having any noticeable symptoms.
Hearts affected by AFib don’t properly pump blood out, which increases the person’s susceptibility to clots forming when the blood fills the atria and coagulates. If one of these clots escapes, it can block the flow of blood to the heart and cause a heart attack or block the flow of blood to the brain and cause a stroke. If you have AFib, your risk of a heart attack doubles and your risk of stroke is five times greater than average.
If you have AFib, you can reduce your chance of stroke by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and following your doctor’s treatment plan. That includes routinely taking any prescribed medication for AFib, which will likely include a blood thinner to prevent clots. If medications aren’t working out for you, talk with your doctor about non-surgical and surgical procedures that can help reduce your risk of stroke.
If you suspect a stroke, think F.A.S.T.
F - Face. Ask the person to smile. Does the mouth droop on one side?
A - Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down?
S - Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase back to you. Does it sound strange or incoherent?
T - Time. Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you suspect a stroke. Take note of the time you first noticed symptoms.
The trusted staff at St. Luke’s Health emergency departments use evidence-based protocols in stroke care. At our two DNV-certified Comprehensive Stroke Centers, our doctors can provide quick treatment for even the most complex cases.
CDC | Stroke Signs and Symptoms
American Heart Association | What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?
American Heart Association | What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?
American Heart Association | Answers by Heart
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