Understanding Atrial Fibrillation & Stroke Risks

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Most people understand that that a stroke is a medical emergency. However, you may not know what your risks are when it comes to strokes and whether you are likely to experience one or not. If you have an atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat issue, then this does elevate your stroke risks. Keep reading to understand why and also what you can do about it.

Atrial Fibrillation & Stroke

If you have an irregular heartbeat, then the chambers in the heart do not work the way they are supposed to. Specifically, the upper chambers contract fast and out of rhythm with the lower chambers. This causes blood to gather in the lower chambers for longer than it should. As the blood sits, it begins to coagulate or thicken. The thickened blood can remain pooled in the heart or it may cling to the walls of the heart. In some cases, the thickened blood will release and cause no issues. However, clots can sometimes develop, break away, and move to the brain. A stroke then develops.

People who have atrial fibrillation will often develop a series of miniature strokes. These strokes may go undetected or they may produce few serious symptoms. Headaches, mild numbness, tingling in the extremities, confusion, and dizziness are a few signs of a miniature stroke that you may notice. The symptoms of these strokes usually only last a few minutes, so they are often overlooked. 

Unfortunately, if your atrial fibrillation issue is causing miniature strokes, then there is a good chance that a much more serious stroke will occur in your future. This is one reason why it is wise to carefully assess the symptoms you may be experiencing. If you identify a problem, then an MRI can be completed that shows evidence of the strokes in your brain. 

Reducing Stroke Risks

If you have an atrial fibrillation issue, then your doctor may speak to you about blood thinner medications. These medicines keep the blood from clotting and this reduces that chances of your heart forcing a clot to your brain. 

However, blood thinners can be risky. They can increase your chances of bleeding if you fall and they can also cause complications if you need to undergo surgery. Also, internal bleeding may be an issue if you accidentally take too much of the medication. You should understand that you may need to follow a special diet as well since some blood thinners interact with certain food items. For example, the blood may become too thin if you eat leafy greens or consume grapefruits while taking the medication. You also may need to stop taking certain medications and you may need to avoid taking certain NSAID pain relievers, like aspirin.

Blood thinners do have their risks. This is one reason why it is so important for you to seek out medical care that includes imaging if you think you may be experiencing a stroke. Specifically, if a miniature stroke is noted, then your risks of experiencing a more serious stroke are higher. The risks are likely higher than you experiencing a bleeding problem, so the blood thinners are likely a good choice.

There are certain medications that you can take in addition to and instead of the blood thinner. These include beta blockers, calcium blockers, and heart rhythm controlling medicines. 

Even if you take medications that are meant to reduce your specific atrial fibrillation stroke risks, strokes can still occur. This means you should be well aware of both common and uncommon stroke symptoms so you can seek out care as soon as you need it. If you are a woman, then make sure that you understand the symptoms that women are likely to experience. Symptoms can vary significantly from the ones that men notice. To learn more, contact an emergency medical treatment service.