May celebrates American Stroke Month, the leading cause of disability in U.S. adults. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain gets blocked and the brain is unable to receive oxygen. Certain heart conditions, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib), can lead to stroke, but the good news is four out of five strokes can be prevented.
AFib, a heart rhythm disorder that causes a fast, irregular heartbeat, can form blood clots in the heart that travel to the brain and cause a stroke. People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke, but taking the time to treat the condition early with these five steps can help avoid any future risk.
1.) Understand your stroke risk
Play an active role in your health care and talk to your doctor about how AFib is affecting your life and how to best manage your condition. Most heart rhythm patients take an anticoagulant — a prescription blood thinner — to prevent blood clots from forming, while other patients may only need to take aspirin.
2.) Take your medication the right way
Medications are specifically prescribed based on each patient’s need, and are a vital part to managing AFib and the risk of stroke. Don’t make any changes to your medication without consulting your health care provider, and let them know if you experience any side effects.
3.) Eat well with a heart-healthy diet
Make heart-healthy food choices every day. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in fats and sodium can help you adopt healthy eating habits. Always remember that alcohol and smoking can trigger AFib episodes.
4.) Maintain an active lifestyle
Studies have shown AFib patients who routinely exercise are better able to maintain their condition. While vigorous workouts may not be the best idea, staying active can strengthen the heart and help lower stress.
5.) Stay connected
Managing a chronic condition can take a lot of time and energy. Continuing to participate in regular hobbies and staying connected with friends and family can go a long way in coping with AFib and keeping a positive attitude.
AFib affects more than three million people in the United States, but major treatment advancements have been made to maintain various cardiovascular conditions better than ever before. Always talk to your doctor and don’t hesitate to reach out to others for support.
Dhanunjaya R. Lakkireddy, MBBS, FACC, Chair-Elect, Electrophysiology Leadership Council, American College of Cardiology, [email protected]