May is Stroke Awareness Month – Learn the signs

stroke awareness

Prevent having a stroke – check for A-Fib  

One of several health focuses in May, is stroke awareness. This is extremely important in the community as so often men and women, who otherwise seem healthy are victims of a stroke. Some stroke victims are left physically impaired, and, unfortunately, die as the result of a stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds, or when there’s a blockage, a blood clot,  in the blood supply to the brain. The rupture or blockage prevents blood and oxygen from reaching the brain’s tissues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, more than 795,000 U.S. people have a stroke.

One of the unknown factors that causes stroke, according to local cardiologists, is a cardiac condition known as Atrial Fibrillation or A-Fib.

This condition affects some 2.2 million people in the U.S. annually, and pertains to an irregular heartbeat, often caused when the two upper chambers of the heart beat unpredictably and sometimes rapidly. These irregular heartbeats can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to a person’s brain and cause a stroke.

Some people have pronounced symptoms of A Fib as they will sense a pulsating, rapid heartbeat over a period of time. But A Fib can also be asymptomatic, that is without any symptom.  This type of A-Fib, paroxysmal A Fib, can be quite dangerous, resulting in blood clots that cause a stroke.

A Fib is more common in people over age 60, and more common in those with diabetes and high blood pressure. Without symptoms some people are not aware of the problem until they have an electrocardiogram (ECG) done during the course of an annual or bi-annual physical, when an irregular heart beat is determined.

Cardiologists caution that people with A-Fib are several times   more likely to have a stroke.

Symptoms of A-Fib

When they are symptoms of A-Fib, these may include the following:

Frequent heart palpitations; felling tired and out of breath with little exertion; unusual sweatiness, feeling dizzy and light headed, or fainting spells; pain or pressure in the chest; experiencing anxiety or panicky.  

If these symptoms reoccur, people should visit their doctor as s soon as possible, so the appropriate tests can be conducted to determine the cause.

Medical tests for A-Fib

The first, and more common test to determine if one has A-Fib is the ECG which will measure the rhythm of your heartbeat for a few minutes. If the readout of the ECG detects any irregularity, one is usually refereed to a cardiologist who will conduct more advanced tests.

These tests will likely include a Stress test, which included another ECG but normally conducted while the patient you walk on a treadmill or when you take a medicine that makes your heart beat faster. The cardiologists may also prescribe that the patient wear an Holter, a small device attached to the chest, which is in effect a portable ECG that measures one’s heart rhythm during a period, normally at least 24 hours.

Treatment

If A-Fib is confirmed the cardiologists will recommend treatment.

Typically, the first course of treatment is to be prescribed with blood thinning medication to prevent clots which could cause a stroke. One of the more common blood thinner is aspirin, preferably Baby Aspirins 81mg, which are chewable, and can be taken at least once daily. However, there are strong blood thinning medication, and depends on the patients’s condition the doctor will make the appropriate prescription.

Depending on the severity of the A-Fib the cardiologist could treat the condition with cardioversion  a procedure that stimulate the heart to its regular rhythm with medication or low bursts of electricity.

It’s extremely important that people with A-Fib, especially, paroxysmal A-Fib, adjust their lifestyle significantly in order to improve the condition of their heart, and minimize the risks of blood clots, and therefore strokes.

Those diagnosed with A-Fib must not some, eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise – include walking-  regularly; avoid weight gain, avoid alcohol especially where this triggers A-Fib symptoms, and most importantly avoid a live of stress or stressful situations. In summary a healthy fat, sugar, salt free diet, regular light exercise, and  a stress-free life will be useful I countering A-Fib, and the possibility of blood clots that could cause a stroke.

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