Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke: 5 Things Doctors Wish You Knew

April 4, 2016
 
By Elaine M. Hylek, MD, Special to Everyday Health
 

Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disturbance that could quickly change the course of your life. It’s the most common irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, affecting more than 2 million people in the United States and nearly 5 percent of the world’s population. Hundreds of thousands more are diagnosed with it each year.

While it’s not typically life-threatening, atrial fibrillation increases your risk for stroke and heart failure. The good news is that if you know you have atrial fibrillation, you can get treatment and have the best care possible.

How Atrial Fibrillation Can Cause Blood Clots and Stroke

Because the heart beats and contracts irregularly in atrial fibrillation, blood flow may slow or pool and cause your blood to clot. A blood clot that forms as a result of atrial fibrillation is an example of what’s called arterial thromboembolism. If the clot breaks free, it can travel through the circulatory system and lodge in an artery in your brain, causing a stroke. These thromboembolic strokes are potentially devastating.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation, also called afib, can differ for each person. While some people are immediately aware of their heart rhythm change, others may not feel anything. Symptoms can include mild fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, dizziness, palpitations, or chest pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to see your doctor.

Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke Facts

As you age, atrial fibrillation is an important condition to keep on your health radar. Here are five important facts about afib to remember.

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*This article was originally published by Everyday Health on April 3, 2016.

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