Is there a connection between your heart’s irregular rhythm and a brain stroke?
When it comes to brain strokes, most people know that having high blood pressure puts you at increased risk of suffering a stroke. High blood pressure is perhaps the most common potential risk factor for strokes. However, it is by no means the most powerful one. It might come as a surprise to you but Afib or Atrial Fibrillation is the single most powerful potential risk factor for brain strokes! In fact, a person with high blood pressure has twice the chance of getting a stroke, whereas a person with Afib is 5 times more likely to get an Afib stroke as compared to those that do not suffer from this heart condition.
Afib affects your heart, while a stroke happens in the brain, what’s the connection?
It all comes down to how the brain functions. This unique organ requires nourishment in the form of constantly supplied blood and oxygen. These nutrients are sent to the brain by the pumping of the arteries. If the brain does not receive this nourishment, brain cells begin to die rapidly. A stroke is simply defined as a “sudden loss of brain function”. In general, strokes are the result of an artery bursting or getting clogged.
In the case of a person with high blood pressure going through a stroke, the cause is the weakening of the arteries due to the sheer force with which the blood is being pumped. As the name suggests, people with “high blood pressure” have their blood pumped by the arteries at a very high pressure. Over a period of time, more and more arteries of a person’s body get damaged due to the high pressure pumping. Some of these arteries are the ones that supply blood to the brain. When they burst either in or near the brain, the result is a stroke.
The case of an Afib stroke is not very different. Someone who has Afib suffers a “quivering or irregular heartbeat”, also known as arrhythmia. Rapid heartbeats means that the heart is not working at optimum levels, and the pumping of blood through the arteries is highly erratic. Over a period of time, this erratic pumping also causes too much stress to the arteries, making them susceptible to bursting, clogging, plaque build-ups, and many other heart-related diseases. Not only can Afib cause your blood to pool in the heart, it can also cause clots that often travel to the brain, and cause an Afib stroke.
The Afib-High Blood Pressure-Stroke Connection
The only reason why a stroke related to high blood pressure has more impact than an Afib stroke is the number of people affected. Approximately 2.7 million people in the United States suffer from Afib, while more than 80 million people suffer from high blood pressure. The number of people who get a high blood pressure-related stroke is much higher than the number of Afib stroke cases recorded. However, when it comes to being the most powerful potential risk factor, Afib is the winner.
Furthermore, Afib and high blood pressure also go hand-in-hand. Research shows that people with high blood pressure (middle-aged men and women) are at a higher risk of getting Afib, as compared to those who do not have high blood pressure. Consequently, someone with both high blood pressure and Afib is much more likely to suffer a stroke.
Preventing an Afib Stroke
All hope is not lost. Just because you have Afib and/or high blood pressure does not mean that getting an Afib stroke is inevitable. The best way to handle an Afib stroke is to prevent it as much as possible. If you have Afib, this will come down to finding out what is causing the condition, and then taking steps to control it. There are a number of risk factors for Afib, including asthma/COPD, hyperthyroidism, sleep apnea, excessive consumption of cigarettes/alcohol/stimulants like coffee, coronary artery disease, etc. If your Afib is being caused by hyperthyroidism, then treating the condition may be enough to control and reduce Afib, thereby reducing the chance of an Afib stroke.
Other methods that work to prevent Afib stroke problems are quitting smoking, reducing consumption of alcohol and stimulants, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, monitoring blood pressure, and taking your prescribed medication in a timely manner.