7 Ways to Help Prevent Stroke While Living with AFib

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most common form of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. People with AFib are five times more likely to suffer stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 15 to 20 percent of ischemic strokes, which happen when blood flowing to your brain is blocked by a clot or fatty deposit, are caused by AFib.

AFib’s irregular heartbeat can interrupt the blood flow and can result in blood pooling in your heart, especially in the left atrial appendage, and forming a blood clot.  If a blood clot breaks free and travels to your brain, a stroke can occur.

Your risk of stroke depends on several factors – age, gender, diabetes, high blood pressure, vascular disease and history of previous strokes. Cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Shang-Chiun Lee with Mercy Clinic Cardiology has seven things you can do to help lower your risk of stroke while living with AFib.

  1. Get your AFib under control. By itself, AFib isn’t too dangerous, but the potential complication of a stroke can be deadly. Several medications can be used to control the rate or rhythm of your heart. One of those is a blood thinner, designed to decrease the risk of stroke by keeping blood from clotting. Discuss the options with your doctor who can develop a strategy designed for you.

    Cardiac ablation is also an option to alleviate discomfort or symptoms of AFib. An ablation is a minimally-invasive procedure in which the doctor destroys (by burning or freezing) tissue in your heart that’s sending the wrong electrical signals. This procedure reroutes the signals to get your heartbeat regular again. Even after an ablation, your doctor may recommend you take blood thinners to lower your stroke risk.

  2. Exercise. Being inactive or obese can raise your risk of stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. Getting at least 30 minutes of activity each day offers many health benefits and can decrease your risk of these diseases.

  3. Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re carrying extra pounds, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes. These conditions make a stroke more likely. Your target blood pressure should be 120/80. Take your blood pressure twice a day, and share the numbers with your doctor.

    Incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fiber into your daily diet. Even though it can be tempting, try to avoid sugary drinks and sweets.

  4. Avoid alcohol. Binge drinking or regular alcohol use can lead to a stroke. Women who have more than one drink a day and men who drink an average of more than two drinks a day tend to have higher blood pressure, increasing stroke risk.

  5. Don’t smoke. Research links many diseases to smoking, such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory issues. Stopping smoking significantly reduces your risk of these diseases.

  6. Keep diabetes in check. Diabetes and AFib are linked in several ways, and they both increase your risk for stroke and heart disease. It’s important to get control of your blood sugar so you can control your AFib symptoms.

  7. Get quality sleep. Researchers have discovered a connection between people getting less than six hours of sleep a night and stroke. Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that affects your breathing, is also associated with stroke risk factors like high blood pressure, AFib, heart failure and diabetes. If you are snoring at night, talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study.

Talk to your Mercy heart specialist about AFib treatment options and simple lifestyle changes to help lower your risk of stroke. We’ll develop a care plan specific to your needs so you can continue living life to the fullest – with a strong, healthy heart.