Featured

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 http://afib.co.nz/index.html 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 http://www.bpac.org.nz/BPJ/2011/october/af.aspx 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.

References

  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.

Controllable Risk Factors – Cholesterol

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat (lipid) that is made by the body. It is found in the bloodstream and in all of your body’s cells. The body needs cholesterol to form cell membranes, some hormones and vitamin D.

Cholesterol is also found in some foods, such as eggs, meats and dairy products.

Because cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood on its own, it must be carried to and from cells by particles called lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

High cholesterol or plaque build-up in the arteries can block normal blood flow to the brain
High cholesterol or plaque build-up in the arteries can block normal blood flow to the brain

LDL is often called the “bad” cholesterol. It can cause plaque build-up. Plaque is a thick, hard substance that can clog arteries. Recent studies show that high levels of LDL and triglycerides (blood fats) raise the risk of ischemic stroke. Plaque can also increase risk of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) where stroke symptoms go away within 24 hours.

The second main type of cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called the “good” cholesterol. High levels of HDL may reduce stroke risk.

  • How does cholesterol affect stroke risk?
    High cholesterol or plaque build-up in the arteries can block normal blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. High cholesterol may also increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, which are both risk factors for stroke.
  • What increases cholesterol levels?
    Many things can affect cholesterol levels. Some can be changed and some cannot.

Things you can change:

  1. Diet — Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol can increase cholesterol levels.
  2. Weight — Being overweight can increase your cholesterol levels.
  3. Exercise — People who are not active tend to have higher cholesterol levels.

Things you cannot change:

  1. Family History — If someone in your family has high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol.
  2. Age — Most people experience an increase in cholesterol levels until about the age of 65.
  3. Gender — Women under age 50 tend to have lower cholesterol and those in menopause have higher levels.

How often should I be checked for high cholesterol?

  • All adults age 20 and older should have their cholesterol checked at least once every five years.
  • Cholesterol should be checked more frequently in men older than 45 and women older than 55.
  • People with a family history of high cholesterol should be checked more often.
  • People who have high cholesterol should be checked more often.

What can I do to manage my cholesterol?

  1. Eat a healthy diet
  2. Eat low-fat foods especially foods low in saturated fat. This includes vegetables, fruits, lean meats such as chicken and fish, low-fat dairy products and a limited number of egg yolks.
  3. Bake, broil, steam or grill your food (instead of frying).
  4. Add fibre to your diet, including whole grains or dried beans.
  5. Talk to your doctor about any necessary medical treatment that may help control cholesterol levels

A Head of Stroke Dedicated to Reconnection after Stroke

A 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.

Featured

Controllable Risk Factors – Tobacco Use & Smoking

How is smoking linked to stroke?
Smoking doubles the risk for stroke when compared to a non-smoker. It reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, causing the heart to work harder and allowing blood clots to form more easily. Smoking also increases the amount of build-up in the arteries, which may block the flow of blood to the brain, causing a stroke. The good news is that smoking-induced strokes and overall stroke risk can greatly reduced by quitting smoking.

Smoking doubles the risk for stroke when compared to a non-smoker.
Smoking doubles the risk for stroke when compared to a non-smoker.

Smokers often have concerns about quitting smoking. Following are tips for dealing with those concerns

  • “I’ll gain weight if I quit smoking.”
    Weight gain varies from person to person. The average person gains less than 5 kilos. Exercise and a low-fat diet can help. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain cereals and pasta. Low-sugar candy may also help. Try to get enough sleep. Talk to a doctor about how to quit smoking while maintaining your weight.
  • “What do I do when I get the urge to smoke?”
    When possible, stay away from places where others might be smoking. Ask others not to smoke around you. When you do feel the urge to smoke, distract yourself and stay busy. If you can make it three minutes, the urge probably will go away. You can also ask your doctor about prescription medications or nicotine replacement therapy, including over-the-counter patches and gum.
  • “Smoking relaxes me. I get too nervous and anxious if I don’t smoke.”
    First, try to take it easy. It is best to warn those around you that you have quit smoking. Try going for a walk if you get tense. Exercise can help you relax.
  • “I blew it. What do I do now?”
    Smoking cigarettes again does not mean that you have failed. You have already had some success. You got through a number of minutes, days or months without smoking. Don’t let relapses serve as excuses to start smoking again. You are an ex-smoker and can continue to be one.
  • “I’ve tried to quit smoking before. What makes this time different?”
    You can choose to be a non-smoker and be successful. It is important enough to your health to make another attempt. Set a goal for yourself. Think about why you smoke and different ways to handle those reasons without smoking. Help is out there if you ask for it. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for information about local support groups.

New Zealand is recognised internationally as having a comprehensive tobacco control programme, structured around evidence-based interventions proven to reduce smoking. Smoking, however, remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease, with approximately 5000 deaths attributable to smoking in New Zealand each year. Reduce your risk now!

Tips to quit smoking:

Set a “Quit Date.” Mark calendars at home and at work.

Tell family, friends and co-workers about the plan to quit. Ask for their support.

Ask a doctor about nicotine replacement therapy or medication that can help control the urges to smoke.

Throw away all cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters and matches before the “Quit Date”.

Reward yourself for doing well. Buy something nice with the money saved on cigarettes.

A Head of StrokeA 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.