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AFib and Stroke Risk: What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You

The diagnosis? AFib. The risk, you are told, is stroke. Every day thousands of people, just like you, walk out of their doctor’s office thinking they will have a stroke. Does this sound familiar to you? 

A doctor hands you a list of pharmaceuticals you must take to reduce your stroke risk since you have AFib. Do you take them? Almost 800,000 people have a stroke each year in the United States, and without pharmaceutical intervention, you will soon become a statistic, right? Wrong. So does an AFIB diagnosis mean you will have a stroke? Read on to find out.

Can having AFib cause a stroke?

In AFib, disorganized electrical signals cause the upper chambers of the heart to quiver. Because of the chaotic pumping of the heart, blood can sometimes pool in the crevices of these upper chambers, causing a clot to form. If that clot breaks off from the left atrium, it can travel to the brain, causing an ischemic stroke. 

Studies have demonstrated up to a fivefold increase in overall stroke risk associated with atrial fibrillation. Certainly, that is an alarming statistic that would cause anyone with atrial fibrillation to be concerned. However, it’s essential to recognize the difference between this overall risk and your personal risk. By identifying how likely you are to have a stroke, you can make informed health decisions. 

How do I determine my stroke risk?

First developed in 2001 and later modified, the CHA₂DS₂VASc score is an acronym used for AFib patients to determine their actual stroke risk. 

The CHA₂DS₂VASc free calculator looks at the most common stroke risk factors and assigns a number to each, with a maximum score of nine. Females start with one point, while males begin with zero. Patients with a history of congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, or a history of a heart attack score one point per condition. Individuals 65-74 years old get one point, while those over 75 are given two points. A previous history of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack also counts for two points. 

Once you calculate your CHA₂DS₂VASc score, the tool allows you to determine the adjusted stroke rate risk percentage annually. 

For example, a 67-year-old male with no other risk factors would have a 1.3 percent risk of stroke. This is hardly the alarming news that many individuals are hearing from their doctors. But, on the other hand, a 76-year-old female with diabetes, high blood pressure, and a history of a previous stroke has close to a 10 percent chance of a subsequent stroke. 

Are pharmaceuticals necessary to prevent stroke?

Pharmaceutical drugs may have a place in treating atrial fibrillation in certain cases, but they come with significant risks and aren’t always necessary. Evidence suggests that the use of certain anticoagulants may lower immunity, and the cost associated with additional lab work and monitoring of patients on anticoagulants is substantial. Finally, a recent study found newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation patients on anticoagulant therapy did not experience a decreased risk of stroke. 

How to Reduce Your Risk of Stroke with AFib

Small lifestyle changes have a significant impact on stroke risk. The best version of yourself is not going to have a stroke, even without pharmaceuticals. 

Clean up your diet to reduce stroke risk 

Dozens of studies have demonstrated the positive correlation between obesity and stroke risk. In fact, for every 7 pounds that an individual is overweight, the stroke rate increases by approximately 5 percent. That means that an individual 30 pounds overweight has a 20 percent increased chance of stroke.

Reducing sugar consumption and adding nutrient-dense food to your diet can help you to lose those unwanted pounds. Adding fatty fish, such as salmon, to your dinner plate also lowers your stroke risk. A Swedish study showed that women who ate fish three times a week reduced their stroke risk by 16 percent.

Sleep better

In this fast-paced world, it’s easy to push sleep low on your priority list. However, our ancestors rose and slept with the sun, a practice that has long been forgotten. 

Some surprising research found that individuals who slept over 9 hours a day or took naps over 90 minutes had a 25 percent increased risk of stroke. Those that reported poor sleep quality had a higher risk of stroke. 

Turning off electronics at sunset, sleeping in a cooler environment, and rising with the sun are all helpful in reducing stroke risk.

Spend more time in the sun

Our society severely undervalues the healing power of sunshine. When the sun hits our skin, it produces Vitamin D from cholesterol. Vitamin D is an essential hormone needed to maintain good cardiovascular health. Vitamin D deficiencies have been shown to increase stroke risk. Maintaining optimal Vitamin D levels will decrease stroke risk and improve overall health. 

Prioritize happiness and stress management

It’s essential to find happiness in your life. One study showed that those suffering from depression had a 45 percent increased risk of having a stroke and a 55 percent increased risk of dying from a stroke. There have also been numerous studies showing that stress is a significant risk factor for stroke and AFib. 

Watching a sunrise, keeping a gratitude journal, meditating, and spending time with friends are great ways to unwind after a difficult day.

Get adjusted to reduce inflammation

Inflammation is a risk factor for stroke.  One way to reduce this inflammation is to see a chiropractor regularly. One study demonstrated that older adults who sought out chiropractic care for neck pain had a lower chance of stroke seven days later than those who had visited their primary care physician. 

Consider natural blood-thinning methods

Our world is filled with excellent natural nutrients that thin the blood. For example, garlic is a nutritional powerhouse with short-term blood-thinning effects. Other natural blood thinners include cinnamon, ginger, cayenne peppers, and turmeric. 

Next steps

Now that you can calculate your stroke risk, we hope that you will use this information to make informed decisions about your health moving forward. It may be that your risk is significantly lower than what you once thought, which is excellent news! If you want more information about your stroke risk, consider looking into our health analytics tool, CardiaX.

Stay on top of your score, stay healthy and make good lifestyle choices that will reduce your stroke risk and help you manage or eliminate your AFib.

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