Check Your Pulse and Protect Yourself from Stroke
Atrial fibrillation (AF), a type of irregular heartbeat, is a major risk factor for stroke, making a person five times more likely to have a stroke. AF is caused when the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat rapidly and unpredictably, producing an irregular heartbeat. AF raises stroke risk because it allows blood to pool in the heart. When blood pools, it tends to form clots which can then be carried to the brain, causing a stroke. By knowing you have AF, you’ve already taken the first prevention step to beating the odds of an AF-related stroke. But, about one-third of Americans who have it are still undiagnosed. National Stroke Association wants you to ask your doctor about your risk for AF, because three out of four AF-related strokes could be prevented.
Common AF symptoms:
- Heart palpitations
- A sudden pounding, fluttering or racing sensation in the chest, sometimes referred to as "butterflies"
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
National Stroke Association suggests you use a simple “check your pulse” test once a month to check for an irregular rhythm – a sign of possible AF. Ask your doctor to check as well. Remember, you are checking for heart rhythm, not rate. In other words you are checking how your heart is beating and not the number of beats in a one-minute period.
National Stroke Association Check Your Pulse Test
Step 1. Turn your left hand so your palm is facing up. Place the first two fingers of your right hand on the outer edge of your left wrist, just below where you wrist and thumb meet.
Step 2. Slide your fingers toward the center of your wrist until you find your pulse.
Step 3. Press your fingers down onto your wrist until you feel your pulse, being careful not to press too hard. Move your fingers around until the pulse is easy to feel.
Step 4. Feel your pulse for one minute, or 60 seconds. Don’t count the beats. Just pay attention to whether the rhythm seems regular or irregular. A regular pulse will feel even and consistent. An irregular pulse will feel erratic and unpredictable.
What are the symptoms?
Often, AF has no visible symptoms. Some people with AF describe fluttering, racing or pounding sensations in their chests. Others may only experience dizziness, fainting or light headedness during an episode. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should visit your doctor to be evaluated for AF.
The goal for treating AF is to restore the normal, regular rhythm of your heart. Often, this can be done with medications or the use of electrical stimulation. If these efforts are not successful, AF treatment concentrates on protecting you from the blood clots that could travel from the heart to the brain, causing strokes. To reduce the risk of stroke, doctors can prescribe blood thinning medications, which can greatly reduce stroke risk if taken properly. Anticoagulants are drugs that can help prevent blood clots. They can reduce the risk of first stroke in AF patients by 68 percent.
For more information about AF, visit www.stroke.org/afib.