AF Information & Advice For Patients
Every 15 seconds someone suffers an AF-related stroke. AF is the most powerful single risk factor for suffering a deadly or debilitating stroke.
While it is currently not possible to prevent all AF-related strokes, research and increased understanding has enabled doctors to:
- assess an individual’s risk of an AF-related stroke, and
- prescribe a therapy that will reduce this risk by up to 70%.
What is a stroke?
Stroke is a ‘brain attack’ where the oxygen supply to an area of the brain has been disrupted. A stroke can occur due to a clot blocking an artery to the brain (an 'ischaemic' stroke), or can be caused by a bleed from an artery into the brain tissue (a 'haemorrhagic' stroke).
Strokes vary in intensity and the effects can be temporary or permanent. So-called silent strokes affect areas of the brain which are not directly associated with motor functions. Silent strokes are usually unnoticed and there are no outward symptoms except perhaps cognitive impairment or mood swings.
TIAs (transient ischaemic attacks) may be followed by an apparently complete recovery. In serious strokes such as AF-related strokes, the effects may be severe, causing loss of speech, paralysis, or even a fatality. This is why it is so important the people with AF are properly anticoagulated based on their risk factors.
What is AF-related stroke?
The irregular rhythm of the heart caused by AF gives opportunity for the blood to pool and form into a clot. It is these clots that are at risk of breaking away and flowing through the blood until they cause a blockage and thus an ischaemic stroke (clot caused stroke).
The following video illustrates how an AF-related stroke occurs:
This video explores the issue of AF-related stroke and the importance of managing the stroke risk in patients with atrial fibrillation.
Symptoms or signs of a stroke - the FAST Test
The symptoms of a stroke can be recognised by the FAST test, which is the test also used by paramedics to diagnose a stroke:
FACE - has the person's mouth or eye drooped down? Can they smile?
ARM - can they raise both arms?
SPEECH - can the person speak clearly? Can you understand what they are saying?
TIME - act fast and call 999
Stroke is a medical emergency and receiving hospital assistance quickly can limit further damage and help someone make a full recovery.
If the symptoms settle quickly
In a situation where the symptoms of the FAST test seem to disappear quickly and normal body function is returned this may be a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or ‘mini stroke’.
Although immediate help may not be required you should see your General Practitioner (GP) promptly to be referred to a specialist stroke service.
These mini strokes can be signs that there is a risk of a major stroke.