The heart problem that can lead to stroke

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AF or A-fib, is a common type of arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, that involves the upper chambers of the heart. It is caused by the muscles of the chambers quivering or fibrillating rather than properly contracting.

This condition can also be explained as a problem with the electrical system of the heart. The condition is typically identified through an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

A cause for concern

Having atrial fibrillation affects the movement of blood through the heart by allowing the blood to pool. This can increase the risk of clotting, and clotting increases the risk of stroke.

Yet, according to a 2009 survey by the American Heart Association:

* Only 33 percent of patients with atrial fibrillation believe it’s a serious condition
* Less than 50 percent of patients with atrial fibrillation believe they have an increased risk for stroke, heart-related issues or death

These numbers aren’t the only concern of the American Heart Association and the medical community. The additional concern is the fact that a patient may not display symptoms that would give him or her ample warning before a serious stroke, heart attack or heart failure occurs.

This makes atrial fibrillation education critical for everyone, which includes knowing that the condition may not have symptoms, but if it does, what exactly they are.

Possible symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Should an A-fib patient experience symptoms, they could be:
* Palpitations (an abnormally rapid heartbeat)
* Shortness of breath
* Difficulty exercising
* Chest pain
* Dizziness or fainting
* Weakness or fatigue
* Confusion

Not only should you realize the seriousness of the condition and possible symptoms such as these, but you should also know that treatments are available.

Treatment for atrial fibrillation

The type of treatment for atrial fibrillation is dependent on the patient’s symptoms but options are most certainly available. For some, avoiding coffee is the answer. For others, it may be require treatment of a thyroid issue. Still other treatments may involve medication, and sometimes even surgical procedures may be deemed necessary.

Your role in preventing atrial fibrillation

Prevention strategies for atrial fibrillation include lifestyle changes that can improve your overall heart health, such as doing the following:

* Eat a heart-healthy diet (more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat).
* Reduce salt intake to help lower blood pressure.
* Exercise regularly.
* Avoid smoking.
* Limit or eliminate the use of alcohol and/or caffeine.

Risk Factors for Atrial Fibrillation

If you have any of these risk factors, you should discuss them with your doctor as well as get an atrial fibrillation screening.

* Age – the older you are, the greater your risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
* Heart disease – anyone with heart disease, valve problems, a history of heart attack, or a history of heart surgery has an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
* High blood pressure – having high blood pressure, especially if it’s not well controlled, can increase your risk of atrial fibrillation.
* Other chronic conditions – people with thyroid problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, lung disease and other medical problems have an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
* Drinking alcohol – drinking alcohol can trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation and binge drinking – having five drinks in two hours for men or four drinks for women – may put you at and even higher risk.
* Medications – exposure to stimulant medications increases risk of atrial fibrillation.
* Family history – an increased risk of atrial fibrillation can be hereditary.

After age 40, one in four adults will have atrial fibrillation. Having the condition can increase your risk of stroke by five times. Educating yourself about atrial fibrillation, its symptoms (or lack thereof), available treatment, possible prevention, and risk factors is important. It’s time to get serious about atrial fibrillation and stroke today.

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