- Signs or symptoms of heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Previous strokes or “mini-strokes”
- History of vascular disease
- Age between 65 and 74 years old (an extra point is added if you are age 75 or older)
- Being a female
Atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, is the most common heart rhythm abnormality which affects 2 million to 3 million people in the United States. It causes rapid heart rhythms that can lead to serious medical problems and increase your risk of experiencing a stroke.
The A-fib –Stroke Connection
Irregular heartbeats associated with A-fib can cause blood to collect in your heart. When blood collects in your heart, you are at an increased risk of developing a clot, which could potentially travel to your brain and cause a stroke.
According to the National Stroke Association, approximately 15 percent of people who have strokes also suffer from A-fib. Statistics also show that people with A-fib are five times more likely to have a stroke. And, studies show that stroke patients who have A-fib can experience higher rates of death, increased stroke recurrence and more severe impairment that other stroke patients who do not suffer from A-fib.
Your Specific Stroke Risk
If you are diagnosed with A-fib, you should talk to you doctor about your specific stroke risk. Most doctors use the CHADS-VASc calculator to help recommend the most appropriate blood-thinning therapy to reduce the risk of blood clots in atrial fibrillation patients.
The CHADS-VASc calculator assigns points for several factors that increase your risk of having a stroke, including:
A score of “0” means that your stroke risk is very low and you may not require any blood thinners. However, if your score is “2” or higher, your doctor may prescribe a blood-thinning medication such as warfarin. A score of “1” means that you and your doctor should consider the risks and benefits of blood-thinning medication together.
Unfortunately, many patients who experience a stroke end up being diagnosed with A-fib after the fact – they never knew they had A-fib. The risk of stroke is not correlated with symptoms.
Checking your pulse regularly, sticking to your medication regimen, if any, and following your health care provider’s instructions will help you to control your A-fib. If you continue to experience A-fib symptoms, it is important that you contact your health care provider as soon as possible. Managing your A-fib, thereby reducing your risk of a stroke, could save your life.