Controllable Risk Factors – Atrial Fibrillation

Controllable Risk Factors – Atrial Fibrillation

Artriall FibrillationAtrial fibrillation (AF) is a major risk factor for stroke, making a person five times more likely to have a stroke. About 15 percent of all people who have strokes have AF, too. People who have been diagnosed with AF have already taken the first step to preventing AF-related stroke. Unfortunately, many New Zealanders’ who have AF don’t know it. Three out of four AF-related strokes can be prevented — if you are already diagnosed, beat the odds of having a stroke due to AF by understanding stroke symptoms, response and available treatments to control AF.

Most New Zealanders’ over the age of 40 are at risk for having AF. Take preventive steps by self-testing for an irregular heartbeat with:

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and Stroke 

What is AF and how is it related to stroke?

AF is a type of irregular or “racing” heartbeat that 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 or brain attack.  This condition increases a person’s risk for stroke by 500%. Plus, three out of four AF-related strokes can be prevented. AF-related strokes are also more deadly. In fact, more than 70% of AF patients who have strokes will die as a result. The prevalence of AF increases with increasing age, particularly from age 50 years. The overall prevalence of AF is approximately 1%, increasing to approximately 10% in people aged ≥ 80 years.1, Approximately one-third of the estimated 35,000 people in New Zealand with AF will be asymptomatic.2

 Who is most likely to have AF?
While it can occur at any age, AF is more common as you grow older. About five percent of people 65 years old have AF. One in every 20 people over the age of 70 has AF and it’s more common in those with high blood pressure, heart disease or lung disease.

What are the symptoms?
A normal heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute. Patients with AF can experience heartbeats as fast as 450 times per minute. 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 lightheadedness during an episode.

How can I tell if I have AF?
The simple “Check Your Pulse” test can be done once a month. The test checks for an irregular pulse – 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 for how your heart is beating and not how many times it beats in a 60-second period.

Check Your Pulse Test for Irregular Pulse
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 centre 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 you pulse for 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. 

Treatments for AF
Most AF-related strokes could be prevented with anti-coagulation treatments, yet up to two-thirds of AF patients who had strokes were not prescribed anti-coagulants or blood thinners. Anticoagulation can reduce the risk of first stroke by 68 percent. There are several reasons why current drugs are not being prescribed including interactions with diet and other drugs, the necessity for frequent blood tests and monitoring and concerns about increased risk of bleeding. But, there are new drugs on the horizon that may have fewer complications and will eliminate the monitoring issues associated with current treatments.

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 clot-preventing medications, which can greatly reduce stroke risk if taken properly.

Check out for further information on treatments, explanations of Afib and to hear a pod cast by Harvey White talking on the risks and treatments of AF.

Check out for further information on treatments, management and the types of Afib.

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.

A thorough heart check-up at the doctor includes testing for blocked blood vessels and irregular heart rhythms, including AF. Because AF, like high blood pressure, cholesterol and some other heart diseases, often has no outward symptoms, the only way to confirm the presence of AF is to perform an electrocardiogram (ECG).

normal-ecgDuring an ECG, sensitive electrodes are placed on the chest. These electrodes pick up the electrical impulses generated by the body that cause the heart to beat. The impulses are sent to a T.V. screen or a piece of paper called an ECG strip. By examining the specific pattern of electrical impulses, a doctor can determine whether a patient has AF. Doctors may choose to treat this form of heart disease by prescribing medication or by an electrical shock to the chest to return the beating back to normal.

Talk to a doctor about the best stroke prevention options for you. Then take responsibility and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. The lifestyle adjustments — such as eating healthy foods and quitting smoking — made today may reduce the risk of stroke tomorrow.

aheadofstroked03ar03ap01zl_icon-washington3a_sml1.jpgA Head of Stroke” is dedicated to those affected by Stroke re-contributing to their community. We aim to provide impartial educational information on Stroke prevention, awareness, the effects, rehabilitation, reconnection, tips and tricks that can benefit those most affected by Stroke. This is a New Zealand Web site. Its content is intended for New Zealand resident use.

This Web site does not provide medical advice. Information provided on this site is not designed or intended to constitute medical advice or to be used for diagnosis. Due to unique individual needs and medical history, please consult your own personal physician who will be able to determine the appropriateness of the information for your specific situation and they will assist you in making any decisions regarding treatment and/or medication.


  1. Kannel W, Wolf P, Benjamin E, Levy D. Prevalence, incidence, prognosis, and predisposing conditions for atrial fibrillation: population-based estimates. Am J Cardiol 1998;82:2N-9N.
  1. Lip G. Stroke in atrial fibrillation: epidemiology and thromboprophylaxis. J Thromb Haemost 2011;9 (suppl 1):344-51.

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