Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke Risk Reduction

May is National Stroke Awareness Month: What is A-fib and how does it correlate to an increased risk of stroke?

A male cardiologist gestures while discussing atrial fibrilation with a female patient.

Sponsored content by Memorial Regional Health.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month — an opportunity to learn about the signs of stroke and how to prevent one from occurring in yourself or a loved one.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is one of the leading causes of serious long-term disability and is a leading cause of death in the United States. It occurs when blood flow to the brain is significantly reduced or blocked. Several heart issues and disorders can lead to stroke, including atrial fibrillation or a-fib.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat and at least 2.7 million Americans live with it, according to the American Heart Association. The condition restricts blood from efficiently pumping to the heart due to disorganized and chaotic beating of the heart. It can cause blood to pool in the heart’s upper chambers and form blood clots, leading to serious medical complications, including clot-provoked stroke.

Diagnosis and treatment

A-fib affects everyone differently — some people may experience symptoms while others don’t. Even without symptoms, individuals can still be at risk for stroke. Symptoms include heart palpitations, racing heartbeat or fluttering in the chest; dizziness; shortness of breath; chest pain; weakness; fatigue; and sweating.

A provider may order several tests to determine a-fib, including an electrocardiogram, Holter monitor, event record, echocardiogram, blood test, stress test or a chest X-ray, to name a few.

Treatment generally aims to reset the rhythm or control the rate of the heart and prevent blood clots, decreasing risk of stroke. Each treatment plan is different — some individuals may need medication to control their heart rhythm whereas others might require a medical procedure using catheters or surgery. Other individuals may have their a-fib triggered by an underlying condition or specific event, such as thyroid disorder.

To determine if you are at risk for a-fib or have a-fib without knowing it, speak with your healthcare provider.

Reduce your risk of stroke

Nearly one in every six strokes is caused by a-fib, according to the National Blood Clot Alliance. Those with the disorder are five times more likely to suffer a stroke than those without it, and these strokes are nearly twice as fatal and disabling as strokes unrelated to a-fib.

Living a healthy lifestyle can improve overall heart health and reduce your risk of developing a-fib, or if you have a-fib, reduce your risk of stroke; however, one in three U.S. adults has a condition or habit that leads to stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes.

Remember to exercise regularly, eat heart-healthy foods, maintain a healthy weight, avoid or stop smoking, avoid or limit alcohol and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.

Acting FAST can help those experiencing a stroke get the medical treatment they need to survive and reduce brain damage. The acronym FAST reminds individuals to look for these symptoms to determine a stroke:

•F – Face. The face may droop or present numbness on one side. Ask the person to smile to make the droop more apparent. They might also present dizziness, difficulty speaking, vision loss and/or brief of consciousness.

•A – Arms. One arm may be weaker or numb, so ask the person to raise their arms overhead for 10 seconds. One arm dropping might indicate a stroke.

•S – Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred? Hard-to-understand speech or no speech are signs of stroke.

•T – Time. If a person is displaying any of these symptoms, call 911 right away — even if symptoms go away. It could save their life.

Cardiology at MRH

Memorial Regional Health offers cardiology services in Craig, including cardiac testing. Our board-certified cardiologist Dr. Nelson Prager visits with patients on-site two days per month. Tests that can be completed locally include 24-hour Holter monitoring, treadmill tests, stress echocardiograms EKGs and more. Determine if you have atrial fibrillation by speaking with your healthcare provider.

For more information, go to or call 970-826-2400. Referrals are not required to receive services.

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