Strokes are way too common in our communities and are often the cause of death or permanent disabilities. It’s important for people to be aware of the causes of a stroke and be proactive in preventing being a victim.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds, or when there’s a blockage, a blood clot, in the blood supply to the brain. The rupture or blockage prevents blood and oxygen from reaching the brain’s tissues.
One of the unknown factors that cause stroke, according to local cardiologists, is a cardiac condition known as Atrial Fibrillation or A-Fib.
This condition affects some 2.2 million people in the U.S. annually, and pertains to an irregular heartbeat, often caused when the two upper chambers of the heart, beat unpredictably and sometimes rapidly. These irregular heartbeats can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to a person’s brain and cause a stroke.
Some people have pronounced symptoms of AFib as they will sense a pulsating, rapid heartbeat over a period of time. But AFib can also be asymptomatic, that is without any symptom. This type of AFib, paroxysmal AFib, can be quite dangerous, resulting in blood clots that cause a stroke.
AFib is more common in people over age 60, and more common in those with diabetes and high blood pressure. Without symptoms, some people are not aware of the problem until they have an electrocardiogram (ECG) done during the course of an annual or bi-annual physical when an irregular heartbeat is determined.
Cardiologists caution that people with AFib are several times more likely to have a stroke.
Symptoms of AFib
When they are symptoms of AFib, these may include the following:
Frequent heart palpitations, feeling tired and out of breath with little exertion, unusual sweatiness, feeling dizzy and lightheaded, or fainting spells, pain or pressure in the chest, and experiencing anxiety or panicky.
If these symptoms recur, people should visit their doctor as s soon as possible, so the appropriate tests can be conducted to determine the cause.
The first and most common test to determine if one has AFib is the ECG which will measure the rhythm of your heartbeat for a few minutes. If the readout of the ECG detects any irregularity, one is usually referred to a cardiologist who will conduct more advanced tests.
These tests will likely include a Stress test, which included another ECG but normally conducted while the patient walks on a treadmill or take a medicine that increases heartbeat. The cardiologists may also prescribe that the patient wear a Holter, a small device attached to the chest, which is in effect a portable ECG that measures heart rhythm during a period, normally at least 24 hours.
If AFib is confirmed the cardiologists will recommend treatment.
Typically, the first course of treatment is to be prescribed blood-thinning medication to prevent clots that could cause a stroke. One of the more common blood thinner is aspirin, preferably Baby Aspirins 81mg, which are chewable, and can be taken at least once daily. However, there are stronger blood-thinning medications and, depending on the patient’s condition, the doctor will make the appropriate prescription.
Based on the severity of the AFib, the cardiologist could treat the condition with cardioversion a procedure that stimulates the heart to its regular rhythm with medication or low bursts of electricity.
It’s extremely important that people with AFib, especially, paroxysmal AFib, adjust their lifestyle significantly in order to improve the condition of their heart and minimize the risks of blood clots, and therefore strokes.
Those diagnosed with AFib must not smoke, eat a heart-healthy diet and exercise regularly, avoid weight gain, avoid alcohol, especially where this triggers AFib symptoms, and most importantly avoid a life of stress or stressful situations.
Essentially, a healthy low-fat, sugar- and salt-free diet along with regular light exercise and a stress-free life will be useful in countering AFib, and the possibility of blood clots that could cause a stroke.