AFib and Stroke — Decreasing Your Risk
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) increases your risk of a stroke incrementally — your risk is five times greater than that of a person without AFib. However, there are ways to decrease your risk of a stroke, and understanding why you are at a higher risk is the first step.
What Is AFib?
According to the American Heart Association, it is estimated that 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib — and most don’t believe it is a serious condition! Perhaps that is because they don’t understand their own heart condition.
When a heart is beating in a sinus rhythm — a normal rhythm — the atria and ventricles contract at a regular beat in order to push the blood through the heart. Their job is to push the blood through the heart and into the lungs for oxygenation, where it is then circulated throughout the body.
When a heart is in atrial fibrillation, the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) are fibrillating, or quivering. This quivering does not push all of the blood into circulation, and some of the blood stays in the atria, where it may form a blood clot.
What Causes a Stroke in People With AFib?
If a clot breaks off and is subsequently pushed into circulation, it will probably lodge into an artery. This impedes blood flow, which then causes a stroke.
It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of strokes happen to people with AFib.
What Are Stroke Risk Factors?
According to the National Stroke Association, risk factors can be broken down into several different categories: lifestyle risk factors, medical risk factors, and uncontrollable risk factors.
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
- Age. Stroke risk doubles after the age of 55.
- Previous strokes. 800,000 strokes occur annually, and one-quarter of those are recurrent events.
- Family history. If you have a family history of a stroke at an early age, your risk of a stroke increases.
- Gender. Women have more strokes than men due to the fact that they live longer.
- Race. African Americans have the highest incidence of strokes, followed by Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islanders.
- Certain conditions. For example, having a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a history of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), and having fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD).
Medical risk factors include:
- Hypertension. This is the number one cause of strokes. People with elevated blood pressure have one and a half times greater risk of a stroke than those without high blood pressure.
- Carotid artery disease (CAD). This is often a silent disease and often occurs due to an unhealthy lifestyle and not managing other risks, such as high cholesterol.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes (both type 1 and type 2 diabetes) are up to four times more likely to have a stroke than people without diabetes.