If you’ve been recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), understanding stroke symptoms and how AFib can cause a stroke are essential for your health. Once you understand why your risk for stroke has increased, finding the right treatment plan and doctor will help with stroke prevention as you monitor your condition and handle your symptoms.

How AFib Can Cause a Stroke

When the heart isn’t beating with a normal rhythm, either because of AFib or another condition, it can lead to erratic blood flow throughout the chambers of the heart. This abnormal blood flow can sometimes lead to the formation of a clot, which can then travel through blood vessels and become stuck.

When a clot becomes lodged, it restricts blood flow to the brain. This will eventually lead to a stroke.  Strokes stemming from AFib-related clots carry a higher risk of brain damage than strokes stemming from clots caused by other conditions.

Calculating the Risk of Stroke

There is a way to calculate your risk of stroke. People who have had at least one AFib episode can be evaluated by a doctor using the CHADS2 score, or the CHA2DS2-VASc score, which features metrics for additional factors that affect a person’s stroke risk. Some of these factors include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypertension
  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Prior history of stroke or ministroke
  • Prior history of blood clots

About half of ischemic strokes can be traced back to AFib—and for people over 80 with AFib, the risk for stroke jumps by one-third.

Preventing Stroke

Fortunately, many strokes can be avoided through the detection and treatment of AFib. The most important thing is to find the right treatment plan for you. For some patients, this means medication. Others will choose procedures like catheter ablation to treat their condition.

Oral medications like blood thinners, heart rate controllers, and heart rhythm controllers can be used to treat AFib. Blood thinners can help prevent blood clots from forming and they can treat existing clots, which lowers your risk for stroke. Oral medications are a popular choice because they are cost-effective and non-invasive.

Another option, catheter ablation, is a non-surgical procedure during which an electrophysiologist, or EP doctor, blocks abnormal signals that are causing the irregular heart rhythm. This lowers your risk of stroke and typically has a higher success rate than medication. Furthermore, the risk of symptoms returning is lower.

Oral anticoagulation therapy (OAC) is proven to reduce the risk of stroke by about two-thirds in patients with AFib. It also lowers the risk of all-cause mortality by roughly one-quarter. However, be mindful that OAC is associated with an increased risk of bleeding.

If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib, your risk of stroke is five times higher than individuals who don’t have AFib. Schedule an appointment with the doctors at Heart Rhythm Consultants to discuss your condition and find the right treatment plan for you.

About Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A.

The experienced electrophysiologists of Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A. have been serving West Florida including Sarasota, Venice, Tampa, Port Charlotte, and Sun City Center for over 15 years. Our specialty cardiologists, or EP doctors, help patients manage their abnormal heart rhythm conditions, whether they suffer from arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation (AFib), or other irregular heartbeats.

Dr. Dilip J. Mathew, Dr. Antonio Moretta, and Dr. Rajesh Malik perform arrhythmia treatments like cardiac ablation, cryoablation, and implanting pacemakers or defibrillators. Dr. Mathew has performed nearly 5,000 complex cardiac ablations. View our office locations in Sarasota and Venice, Florida.