“AF-related stroke is a major complication of AF. This section will help you understand your stroke risk and how to reduce it.”Dr David Hargroves - Consultant Physician and Clinical Lead for Stroke Medicine, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust
What is a stroke?
A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is reduced. This may be due to a blockage of an artery (ischaemic stroke) or by bleeding in the brain (haemorrhagic stroke). A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is similar to a stroke, but the symptoms are temporary and there is no permanent brain damage.
Stroke is a debilitating disease which can affect bodily functions, thought processes, learning abilities, and how you feel and communicate. The effect of strokes are sudden and symptoms include feeling numb, weak or paralysed on one side of the body, slurred speech and difficulty in finding words or understanding speech. Some people lose their sight or have blurred vision, and others may become confused or unsteady. It is possible to regain full control of speech and mobility after a stroke; recovery levels and times will vary from person to person depending on age, health and severity of stroke.
How is AF linked to stroke?
Your heart is a muscle and its job is to pump blood around the body - this pumping action creates your pulse. A normal pulse (when resting) is regular and between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
If you have AF, your heart has episodes where it beats faster and in an irregular way - sometimes more than 140 times a minute. You can measure your heart rate by feeling the pulse in your wrist or neck.
If you have a fast or irregular heartbeat, your heart may not have a chance to relax and empty itself of blood properly before filling up again. As a result, the blood does not move quickly and smoothly, and can form clots. If these blood clots then travel in the bloodstream to the brain, they could block the blood flow to part of your brain and cause an AF-related stroke or TIA.
The diagrams below help explain this process:
Stroke risk calculator
If you have been diagnosed with AF, your doctor will assess your personal risk of AF-related stroke, using a scoring system called the CHA2DS2 - VASc:
Calculator is only available on the website, please visit http://careaf.org/topics/af-stroke
Have you suffered congestive heart failure?
Do you suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure)?
Are you over 75?
Are you between 65 and 74?
Have you ever suffered from a stroke, TIA or thromboembolism?
Have you ever been diagnosed with vascular disease e.g. angina or high cholesterol?
Do you have diabetes mellitus?
Are you female?
Your risk score is:
You may be at an increased risk of AF-related stroke. Your doctor will be able to provide advice on treatment according to their individual assessment.
This is simply a tool for your reference. We don't record any information that can be used to personally identify you and we won't contact you in any way.
The scoring system is used to assess whether anticoagulation medicine (a type of drug that slows down your body’s ability to clot, therefore reducing the likelihood of clots forming), is required.
Treatment is recommended when your score is two or more, however in some instances treatment may even be recommended with a score of below two. Your doctor will decide your personalised treatment plan depending on your stroke risk.
Reducing the risk of AF-related stroke
There are a number of things you can do to lower your AF-related stroke risk:
- Stop smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Eat a healthy diet
- Take regular exercise
- Have regular check-ups with your GP
- Manage any other medical conditions you have, for example high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure
Further advice on eating healthily and exercising can be found in the Healthy Living section.