Updated 30 July 2014

Atrial fibrillation (AF) increases stroke risk

Atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat, is a major risk factor for stroke; making a person five times more likely to have a stroke.


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a major risk factor for stroke, making a person approximately five times more likely to have a stroke.

AF is a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat: the upper chambers of the heart (called the atria) beat in a rapid, irregular and ineffective manner.

According to Dr Naren Jairam, a medical advisor for Bayer HealthCare, the link between AF and stroke has been known for years.

"AF-related strokes are generally worse than other strokes, because the cause is different. In AF, the pumping actions of the atria are impaired and often the blood will not be pumped out completely. This can often lead to blood pooling in the atria which, in turn, can lead to clotting, usually in the left atrial appendage. These clots can then travel to the brain and block an artery. The blood supply to a particular part of the brain is interrupted and this can cause a stroke."

Recent research has focused on the prevention of complications related to AF, especially stroke prevention.

“One of the objectives in the treatment of AF is to prevent the formation of blood clots which could travel to the brain and cause a stroke. There has been a considerable amount of research regarding new anticoagulants for the prevention of stroke in patients with non valvular atrial fibrillation. The findings of this research have shown that the new anticoagulants are safe and effective when compared to the current standard of care.”

Could you have AF?

Risk factors for AF include advanced age, another underlying abnormal heart condition, high blood pressure, excessive alcohol drinking and sleep apnoea.There is also a family history suggesting that the disorder/tendency may be inherited.

According to Dr Jairam patients may be asymptomatic. Other patients may experience only minor palpitations, or sense irregularity of their pulse. Many patients, however, experience severe palpitations and other symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue.Atrial fibrillation may be occasional or chronic. When it is occasional, symptoms may last for a few hours or days. ."

AF can be diagnosed by a physical exam and an electrocardiogram (ECG).


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