Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It is also a leading cause of stroke. Known as AFib, atrial fibrillation affects about 20 percent of people who have a stroke. Whether you are trying to prevent or control AFib, it is possible to reduce your risk of stroke. Read on to learn more.
What is AFib?
The heart has four chambers. The top two are called atria. AFib occurs when the atria quiver instead of fully contracting. Healthy atria contract about 60 to 80 times a minute; fibrillating atria quiver 300 to 400 times a minute.
When you have AFib, your heart acts as if it is running a marathon even if you’re relaxing in front of the TV. The overactive heart typically results in symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and fainting. Some patients feel pounding in their chest while others do not.
The rapidly quivering heartbeat associated with AFib lets blood pool in the heart. As a result, clots may form and eventually find their way to the brain.
Atrial fibrillation risk factors
The risk of AFib increases with age. Less than 1 percent of 50-somethings have AFib, but 10 percent of 80-somethings have it.
The most common causes of AFib are uncontrolled high blood pressure and heart disease. AFib is a common complication after heart surgery. Other factors that can put the atria into overdrive include:
- Heart valve disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Cardiomyopathy with weakened heart muscle
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD/emphysema or asthma)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Cigarette smoking or stimulant use (such as caffeine)
- Periods of extreme stress or fatigue
- Sleep apnea
- Heart failure
Reduce stroke risk
Fortunately you can reduce the risk of stroke by preventing or managing AFib and high blood pressure.
- Avoid smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol to two drinks a day for men or one for women.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grain and low in salt, saturated or trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Talk with a doctor and get treated for AFib and high blood pressure. Your doctor may prescribe medication, such as Warfarin, or recommend lifestyle changes.