People with AF are five times more likely to have a stroke. AF affects millions of people and, left untreated, increases the risk and severity of stroke and heart failure.
Normally, the heart contracts and then relaxes to a regular rhythm, forcing blood effectively out and around the body. In AF, the heart’s upper chambers (atria) beat irregularly or quiver (fibrillate), reducing the heart’s efficiency and performance, and causing some blood to pool, which can potentially cause clots to form. If a clot breaks off into the bloodstream and then lodges in an artery leading to the brain, this causes a stroke. Blood thinners may help reduce the risk of stroke in patients with AF.
The condition can affect people of any age but is more common in older people, and it affects slightly more men than women. It is more likely to occur in people with other medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis or a heart problem.
Even though untreated AF doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and is associated with a five-fold increased risk of stroke, many patients are unaware that AF is a serious condition and remain untreated. There is also the added complication as often people with AF don’t have symptoms, making it even more important to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.