February is American Heart Month to raise awareness of the dangers of heart disease. While most heart disease conditions are bad for the heart and raise risks for heart attacks and heart failure, there is actually a heart condition that is bad for the brain and raises the risk for strokes.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a common kind of heart problem that causes an irregular heartbeat. The heart beats too fast or too slowly and the consequences are that pools of blood form in the atria of the heart, especially on the left side. These pools of blood can turn into deadly blood clots, which can make their way to the brain and cause an ischemic stroke. In an ischemic stroke a blood clot lodges in a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain and cuts off this crucial blood flow. The longer the blood flow to the brain is blocked, the more the brain is damaged. This is a heart problem that can be deadly for the brain, as it increases five times the risk for getting a stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), atrial fibrillation causes 15-20% of ischemic strokes where a blood clot cuts off blood flow to the brain and it is estimated that atrial fibrillation causes 130,000 deaths each year. Also, about 2.7–6.1 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation and as more people age the numbers are expected to increase. The risk for developing atrial fibrillation increases with age and affects more women than men.
Atrial Fibrillation may Cause Brain Damage and Raise Risk for Dementia
Besides raising the risk for deadly strokes, atrial fibrillation has been associated with brain damage and raising the risk for dementia. You can read more about this in our blog post from September 12, 2018.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Many people who have atrial fibrillation do not even know they have it. Here are the symptoms to watch out for and anyone who experiences these must have medical attention, preferably by a qualified cardiologist:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations that cause fluttering or pounding feelings.
- A lightheaded feeling
- Extreme fatigue
- Chest pain
- Feeling short of breath
Atrial fibrillation is treated with anticoagulant drugs that keep the blood from clotting. At one time it was treated with Warfarin (Coumadin), but this often leads to serious bleeding. Newer anticoagulant drugs, known as non-vitamin K oral anticoagulants (NOACs) are now recommended according to the guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA). This update to treatment for atrial fibrillation was published January 28, 2019, in Circulation. These NOACs have a lower risk for bleeding and may be more effective in preventing blood clots. They can also be reversed by reversal drugs in case of complications like bleeding.
Losing Weight can Halt Progression of Atrial Fibrillation
Research has shown that losing weight can halt the progression of atrial fibrillation and even reverse it in some cases. An Australian study published June 14, 2018, in Eurospace claims that if a person loses even 10% of their weight this can stop the disease from progressing and thus lower the risk for contracting deadly strokes.
Risks for Developing Atrial Fibrillation
- High blood pressure accounts for 14%-22% of AFib cases
- European ancestry
- Heart failure
- Ischemic heart disease
- Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heavy alcohol use
- Enlargement of chambers on left side of heart
If you or your loved one are in need of rehabilitation following a stroke, the Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation in scenic Galloway Township, New Jersey offers expert post-stroke rehabilitation. Royal Suites is also located in a beautiful area surrounded by eight wooded acres and landscaped gardens.