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Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke Risk

Atrial fibrillation, a common type of irregular heartbeat, can cause a number of health problems. One of the most concerning problems caused by this condition is that it significantly increases the risk for stroke – an individual with atrial fibrillation is five times more likely to suffer from a stroke than an individual who does not have the condition. It is also a highly controllable risk factor. Individuals who are officially diagnosed can receive treatment, and are therefore less likely to fall victim to a stroke.

Because about 15 percent of stroke victims also have this heart condition, it is important for healthcare professionals to be aware of atrial fibrillation and stroke risk. Here are some key facts to know about the condition, and how atrial fibrillation-related strokes can be prevented.

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that is caused when the two upper chambers of the heart beat unpredictably and rapidly. Approximately 2.2 million people are currently diagnosed with the heart condition, and it is estimated that one-third of all individuals with atrial fibrillation are still undiagnosed. While this heart condition can affect anyone, it most commonly occurs in older adults.

Common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:

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

What is the link between afib and stroke risk?

The ties between atrial fibrillation and stroke risk are strong. When the two upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, it can cause blood to pool in the heart. This pooling can lead to blood clots, which can travel in the blood stream to the brain and cause a stroke. When atrial fibrillation goes undiagnosed, an individual is at a significantly higher risk for stroke. In the long term, undiagnosed atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure due to a weakening of the heart muscles.

How can atrial fibrillation-related strokes be prevented?

When treating atrial fibrillation, the main goal is to restore the normal rhythm of the heart. This can be achieved through medication and/or electrical stimulation of the heart. If successful, treatment can eliminate an individual’s symptoms of afib, and stroke risk decreases significantly. In cases where these methods do not work, a doctor may also prescribe blood thinners to reduce blood clot risk in order to help prevent a stroke from occurring.

Treating atrial fibrillation with blood thinners can be tricky, as some complications may arise:

  • Certain medications may not interact well with an individual’s diet or other prescriptions.
  • Blood thinning medications increase the risk of bleeding.
  • The use of these medications often requires an individual to receive frequent blood tests and monitoring.

However, new medications are constantly in development, and may cause fewer of these complications in the future.

Health Ed Solutions

Individuals in need of obtaining or renewing their healthcare certifications can turn to Health Ed Solutions, a leading provider of online courses for healthcare professionals. Courses offered include certification and recertification courses for advanced cardiac life support (ACLS). Visit Health Ed Solutions’ website to learn more about ACLS recertification online course details and ACLS guidelines.