What is it?
AFib is caused when the two upper chambers of the heart beat unpredictably and sometimes rapidly. These irregular heartbeats can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to a person’s brain and cause a stroke. While AFib can occur at any age, it is more common in people 65 years and older. AFib is more common in people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.
Why it matters
AFib itself is not life threatening. However, AFib can cause blood clots. Normally, blood clots are a good thing. It’s your body’s way of protecting you from bleeding too much if you are injured.
When clots form due to AFib, however, this significantly increases your risk of having a stroke. If a clot breaks free and blocks a blood vessel to the brain, you may have a stroke.
If you have AFib, you are five times more likely to have a stroke. Furthermore, AFib-related strokes are nearly twice as likely to be fatal or severely disabling as strokes not associated with AFib.
The good news is that diagnosing and treating AFib prevents 60 to 80 percent of strokes!
Sometimes people with AFib will not have any symptoms. This is known as silent AFib and can only be detected during a physical. However, others can experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- General tiredness or weakness
- Rapid and irregular heart beat
- Fluttering in the chest
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Anxiety or confusion
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Low blood pressure
Know your pulse
Because a rapid heart rate may be a sign of AFib, knowing your pulse rate can alert you to a possible problem. Here are 4 easy steps to check your pulse.
Risk Factors for AFib
If you have AFib, you are not alone. About 2.7 million people in the U.S. have AFib. Many people with AFib also have one or more other health problems, such as those listed here. These other medical conditions or factors increase your risk for AFib and make managing AFib more difficult.
- Age (AFib is more common among people 65 and older; about 11% of people over 80 have AFib)
- Family history (an increased risk occurs in some families)
- Gender (women are at greater risk than men)
- High blood pressure
- Some chronic conditions (diabetes, sleep apnea, thyroid problems, metabolic syndrome, chronic kidney disease or lung disease)
- Heart disease (anyone with heart valve problems, congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, or a history of heart attack or heart surgery)
- Stimulant use (such as medications, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol)
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, or a blood vessel breaks and interrupts blood flow to the brain. When this happens, cells in your brain begin to die. The abilities controlled by the damaged area of the brain may be impacted, and stroke survivors may have difficulty with speech, movement or memory.
Risk Factors for Stroke
A stroke can happen to anyone, at any place and at any time. However, there are some well-established risk factors that can increase your risk for stroke:
- Family history
- Atrial fibrillation
- History of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Sickle Cell disease
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Too much alcohol
- Tobacco use
Strokes are very serious — especially in people who have AFib. Despite this, doctors and nurses know that most AFib patients do not understand their increased risk of stroke. Many people misjudge the impact an AFib-related stroke can have on their daily life and activities.
A survey of stroke survivors echoes this: 73% said experiencing a stroke was worse than they could have imagined. Many were forced to give up jobs and enjoyable activities. Furthermore, 83% said they wish they’d known more about reducing their risk of an AFib-related stroke.
Stroke is a medical emergency! Do you know the warning signs of a stroke? Learn and use the FAST acronym to quickly identify stroke:
Know the Signs. Act FAST.
Fact: 1.9 million brain cells die every minute during a stroke.