Information Screening Stroke Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is usually a chronic heart condition that, if left untreated, can lead to a stroke. More than 2.2 million Americans have this condition — approximately one in 25 people over the age of 60 and one in 10 people older than 80 — according to the American Heart Association (2010).

Many people with atrial fibrillation don’t realize that they have it, as the condition often causes no symptoms. If you’re in a high-risk category, consider medical screening for atrial fibrillation.

If you know you have this condition, you may be able to treat it before it leads to a stroke. Atrial fibrillation causes approximately 15 to 20 percent of all strokes (roughly 75,000 per year), and this condition is associated with a 50 to 90 percent increase in risk of death, as reported by the American Heart Association (2010).

What is Stroke/Atrial Fibrillation?

A stroke occurs when the brain’s blood supply is interrupted, depriving the brain of oxygen necessary for survival. A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment, since brain cells begin to die within minutes. Strokes can lead to long-lasting complications, such as paralysis or memory loss, due to brain damage. In many cases, they are fatal.

Atrial fibrillation is a common cause of strokes — in fact, it increases the risk of stroke fivefold. Also known as an irregular heartbeat or “a-fib,” atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart (known as the “atria”) beat to a different, faster rhythm than the lower chambers (known as the “ventricles”). Atrial fibrillation means that the heart can’t pump blood effectively, so it’s allowed to pool and clot. If a blood clot breaks off and becomes lodged in an artery leading to the brain, blood supply to the brain is slowed and a stroke may occur.

Who is at Risk for Stroke/Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation risk increases with age. People age 40 and older have a higher risk for stroke and atrial fibrillation than younger people. Additional risk factors include:

  • A history of chronic lung disease
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine or other stimulants
  • Heart disease or a history of heart attacks/heart surgeries
  • High blood pressure, even if you’re taking medication
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Periods of extreme stress or fatigue
  • Smoking or a long history of smoking.

How Does Stroke/Atrial Fibrillation Screening Work?

Medical screening tests for atrial fibrillation often involve electrocardiography (EKG or ECG) technology, which records the heart’s electrical activity. During this non-invasive, painless procedure, a technician applies EKG electrodes to your wrists and ankles to monitor your heart’s activity. To facilitate this test, wear a short-sleeve shirt that’s open at the collar when you go to your screening appointment.

If the technician finds an irregular or fast heartbeat, you may discuss preventative and treatment options with your doctor.

Preventing Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

If you’re at risk for stroke and atrial fibrillation, you can take steps to minimize your risk. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can trigger atrial fibrillation, so reduce or eliminate your consumption of these. Also, avoid over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephredrine, which can contribute to an irregular heartbeat. Talk to your doctor about other medications to avoid.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Atrial fibrillation. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from https://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4451.

LifeLine Screening. (n.d.). Screening for atrial fibrillation. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/stroke/atrial-fibrillation.aspx?WT.svl=1.

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Atrial fibrillation. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/atrial-fibrillation/DS00291.