The National Stroke Association says that around 2.2 million people in the United States have a condition called atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
AFib is when the heart beats irregularly. Usually it is the two upper chambers of the heart that are the problem. They can beat too rapidly or in an unpredictable pattern. Sometimes people dismiss the “skipped a beat” or fluttering feeling associated with AFib as nothing serious, but the truth is that it can be very dangerous, even leading to stroke.
About AFib and Stroke
According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA), about 15 percent of strokes can be attributed to AFib that has gone without treatment. Having AFib raises a person’s risk of stroke to five times that the risk of other individuals.
In a healthy heart, blood returning to the heart from the lungs collects in the atria, or upper chambers of the heart. The atria are triggered to contract by an electrical impulse. A healthy heart receives a regular, strong impulse that causes the atria to contract and push blood into the ventricles. However, in a person suffering from AFib, the electrical impulses are erratic and either don’t allow for a complete contraction or cause the atria to quiver.
The AHA/ASA says to think of the atria like a sponge. When you give a web sponge a good, strong squeeze, you empty out most of the liquid. However, if you give it several light squeezes, you won’t empty nearly as much.
Blood that is left sitting in the atria forms clots, just as when you cut yourself, the blood clots to form a scab. A stroke happens when a clot breaks loose and lodges in an artery, blocking blood flow to the brain.
It is possible for a person with AFib to have no symptoms and be completely unaware of it until medical tests for other conditions reveal the problem.
When symptoms are present, they may include:
There are ways to prevent AFib, and an elder care provider can assist your aging relative with them.
Some ways of preventing AFib are:
Healthy Diet: An elder care provider can cook heart healthy meals that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, but that avoid using too much sodium.
Exercise: An elder care provider can help seniors stay more physically active by encouraging them to do things like go for walks, garden, or attend fitness classes.
Managing Stress: An elder care provider can lower the stress levels of older adults just by being available to assist with their needs.
Although a senior’s diagnosis of AFib can be overwhelming, it’s important to know that having it treated can reduce the risk of stroke. Once your aging relative is diagnosed, encourage them to follow the doctor’s advice and take all prescribed medications.