Stroke reduction

Stroke caused by atrial fibrillation is more likely to cause death and disability than other types of stroke and it is most likely to happen again.1 Fortunately there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Lifestyle

There are lifestyle changes you can make today if you are suffering from AF that can help control your symptoms. These lifestyle changes are good for heart health generally so can be followed by anyone, but if you are making significant lifestyle changes you should always speak to your doctor first. It is important that you implement these lifestyle factors alongside any recommended anticoagulant medication to ensure you are managing your AF-related stroke risk:

  • Quit smoking
  • Do not take any illegal or non-prescribed drugs
  • Reduce your consumption of coffee and alcohol
  • Lose weight to ensure you are at a healthy weight
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains
  • Take regular exercise. At least 30 minutes a day is recommended
  • Minimise stress

Treatment

Treatment can be prescribed by your doctor to reduce the risk of AF-related stroke. If you have received a diagnosis of AF but your symptoms remain uncontrolled it is important to speak to your doctor about this as you may need a treatment review.1

  • Anticoagulants:

AF increases the ‘stickiness’ of your blood which can cause the development of blood clots. An anticoagulant medicine (often called blood thinning medicines) will significantly reduce the risk of a blood clot developing that could travel to the brain and cause a stroke. There are a range of anticoagulants available so speak to your doctor if you are unhappy with your current treatment and worried about the risk of stroke3

  • Antiarrhythmic medicines:

These are designed to try and restore a normal heart rhythm. Alternatively a defibrillator may be used in some patients to give you a controlled electric shock to get your heart rhythm back to normal.3 Electric shock therapy is known as cardioversion and is usually carried out in hospital to ensure the patient is monitored. These therapies are not designed to reduce the risk of stroke so may be taken in conjunction with other therapies, for instance anticoagulants are regularly given to patients undergoing cardioversion to prevent blood clots developing

  • Surgical options:

If medication is unsuitable, some patients may be offered surgical options such as the insertion of a pacemaker or surgery to correct the problem3

Aspirin is not recommended to prevent strokes caused by atrial fibrillation.5

References:
  1. 1. Atrial Fibrillation Association & Anticoagulation Europe (UK). The AF Report. 2012. Available at: http://www.preventaf-strokecrisis.org/files/files/The%20AF%20Report%2014%20April%202012.pdf. [Last accessed October 2016]
  2. 3. British Heart Foundation. Atrial fibrillation booklet. 2015. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/publications/heart-conditions/atrial-fibrillation. [Last accessed October 2016]
  3. 5. European Heart Journal. 2016 ESC Guidelines for the management of atrial fibrillation developed in collaboration with EACTS. 2016. Available at: http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/08/26/eurheartj.ehw210. [Last accessed October 2016]