By: Kennedy Shelley
This one thing predicts 15% of strokes.
Strokes are the #1 cause of disability in the country. Unlike widow maker heart attacks, strokes leave you in a wheelchair and sentenced to years of rehabilitation.
Atrial fibrillation or A Fib is an irregular and often rapid heartbeat that increases your risk of stroke and heart failure.
If you have symptoms (and not everyone does) they include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and weakness.
Episodes may come and go or get worse and constant.
It isn’t that A Fib is the killer, it’s a sign of a life-threatening condition.
Why? Because it increases your risk of blood clots because your heart is beating out of rhythm. During A Fib the hearts two upper chambers beat out of rhythm and can’t coordinate with the lower half.
The heart rate can quickly jump over 100 to 175 beats a minute (it should be between 60-100).
Your heart is no longer pumping. In A Fib, it’s quivering.
Well there are a number of risk factors for A Fib. They include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Abnormal heart valves
- Heart defects you’re born with (congenital)
- An overactive thyroid gland or other metabolic imbalance
- Exposure to stimulants, such as medications, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol
- Sick sinus syndrome — improper functioning of the heart’s natural pacemaker
- Lung diseases
- Previous heart surgery
- Viral infections
- Stress due to surgery, pneumonia or other illnesses
- Sleep apnea
Some of the risk factors that could make it more likely you will develop this are your age, high blood pressure, obesity, sleep apnea (snoring), family history. Some really big ones are type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
One group that is normally considered healthy but also may be at risk is people who do or have engaged in endurance sports. The over strengthened heart muscle doesn’t always have enough space for blood flow, especially when it is at rest.
How does this increase your stroke risk? When your heart isn’t pumping, sticky blood in your body can pool in your heart, giving it the opportunity to clot.
The clot can then leave the heart and go to the brain putting you at risk of a stroke. That’s where the clot blocks blood from getting to your brain.
When deprived of blood, that area of the brain dies. That’s why people with strokes are often left disabled. The parts of the brain which are damaged in the stroke may be areas dealing with speech or other function.
Preventive measures are about the same as any other heart healthy activity such as stopping smoking, no more than 2 alcoholic drinks a day, healthy diet and losing weight.
New technology allows you to see if you are having A Fib at home with your phone.
There are several companies that allow you to see if your heart flutters are serious. You can now own your own EKG.
Some of these devices are little strips where you put your thumbs on it and it monitors your heart rhythms.
And some new ones use your phone’s camera to monitor your heartbeats.
Both can store the information on your phone and can be sent to your doctor or saved to discuss later.
The good news is that if A Fib is diagnosed it can be treated with medicines such as blood thinners and lifestyle changes.
This technology used to only be available and could only be monitored at your doctor’s office or in the hospital, but you can still check out those flutters no matter where you are.