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Controllable Risk Factors – Atrial Fibrillation

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Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is a major risk factor for stroke, making a person five times more likely to have a stroke. About 15 percent of all people who have strokes have Afib, too. People who have been diagnosed with Afib have already taken the first step to preventing Afib-related stroke. Unfortunately, many Americans who have Afib don’t know it. Three out of four Afib-related stroke can be prevented — if you are already diagnosed, Beat Your Odds of having a stroke due to Afib by understanding stroke symptoms, response and available treatments to control Afib. Most Americans over the age of 40 are at risk for having Afib. Take preventive steps by self-testing for an irregular heartbeat with the Check Your Pulse℠ technique and discuss your risk for Afib and stroke with your doctor. 

Get involved in Afib and stroke

  • Learn more about and download National Stroke Association’s free Beat Your Oddseducational toolkit and patient video. The Beat Your Odds educational tools are ideal for physicians to share with patients newly diagnosed with Afib.
  • Visit www.facingafib.com for educational resources and information, including a personal stroke risk assessment tool and personalized doctor discussion guides.
  • Visit www.teamafib.com to test your knowledge with Afib Insight™, an interactive explanation of atrial fibrillation and how it relates to stroke.

Common Afib symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations.
  • A sudden pounding, fluttering or racing sensation in the chest, sometimes referred to as "butterflies".
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed.

What is Afib and how does it relate to stroke?
Afib is a type of irregular heartbeat. It is caused when the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat rapidly and unpredictably, producing an irregular heartbeat. Afib raises stroke risk because it allows blood to pool in the heart. When blood pools, it tends to form clots which can then be carried to the brain, causing a stroke. Long-term untreated Afib can also weaken the heart, leading to heart failure. More than 70 percent of Afib patients who have strokes will die. While an estimated 2.2 million people are diagnosed with Afib, it is estimated that one-third of Americans who have it are still undiagnosed. Treatments are available for Afib if it is diagnosed properly.

Who is most likely to have Afib?
While it can occur at any age, Afib is more common as people grow older. About 5 percent of people 65 years and older and one in every 10 people over 80 have Afib and it’s more common in those with high blood pressure, heart disease or lung disease.

What are the symptoms?
Often, Afib has no visible symptoms. Some people with Afib describe fluttering, racing or pounding sensations in their chests. Others may only experience dizziness, fainting or light headedness during an episode. Anyone with these symptoms should visit a doctor to be evaluated for Afib.

Beat Your Odds℠: Treatments for Afib to prevent stroke
The goal for treating Afib is to restore the normal, regular rhythm of the heart and beat the odds of having a stroke. Often, this can be done with medications or the use of electrical stimulation. If these efforts are not successful, Afib treatment concentrates on protecting from the blood clots that could travel from the heart to the brain, causing strokes. To reduce the risk of stroke, doctors can prescribe blood thinning medications, which can greatly reduce stroke risk if taken properly. While most Afib-related strokes could be prevented with blood thinners, up to two-thirds of Afib patients who had strokes are not prescribed these medications. Anticoagulants are drugs that can help prevent blood clots. They can reduce the risk of first stroke in Afib patients by 68 percent. There are several reasons why current drugs are not being prescribed, including interactions with diet and other drugs, the necessity for frequent blood tests and monitoring and concerns about increased risk of bleeding. But, there are new drugs on the horizon that may have fewer of these complications.

Check Your Pulse℠ Helps Identify Afib
National Stroke Association suggests our simple Check Your Pulse℠ test once every month to check for an irregular rhythm - a sign of possible Afib. Ask a doctor to check as well. Remember, you are checking for heart rhythm, not rate. In other words you are checking how the heart is beating and not the number of beats in a one-minute period.

Check Your Pulse Test

Step 1. Turn your left hand so your palm is facing up. Place the first two fingers of your right hand on the outer edge of your left wrist, just below where you wrist and thumb meet.

Step 2. Slide your fingers toward the center of your wrist until you find your pulse.

Step 3. Press your fingers down onto your wrist until you feel your pulse, being careful not to press too hard. Move your fingers around until the pulse is easy to feel.

Step 4. Feel your pulse for one minute, or 60 seconds. Don’t count the beats. Just pay attention to whether the rhythm seems regular or irregular. A regular pulse will feel even and consistent. An irregular pulse will feel erratic and unpredictable.

The Check Your Pulse℠ self-screening test must be performed properly in order to obtain correct results and should not be considered a substitute for consulting with a physician. If you suspect you may have an irregular pulse, you have difficulty locating your pulse or performing the screening technique, discuss your concerns with your physician.

A thorough heart check-up at the doctor includes testing for blocked blood vessels and irregular heart rhythms, including Afib. Because Afib, like high blood pressure, cholesterol and some other heart diseases, often has no outward symptoms, the only way to confirm the presence of Afib is to perform an electrocardiogram (ECG).

During an ECG, sensitive electrodes are placed on the chest. These electrodes pick up the electrical impulses generated by the body that cause the heart to beat. The impulses are sent to a T.V. screen or a piece of paper called an ECG strip. By examining the specific pattern of electrical impulses, a doctor can determine whether a patient has Afib. Doctors may choose to treat this form of heart disease by prescribing medication or by an electrical shock to the chest to return the beating back to normal.

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