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Reduce your risk of stroke if you have atrial fibrillation

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Nov 13, 2019.

Atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder, can increase your risk of stroke.

In atrial fibrillation, blood can pool in the heart's upper chambers and form blood clots. If a blood clot forms in the left-sided upper chamber (left atrium), it could break free from your heart and travel to your brain. A blood clot can block blood flow to your brain and cause a stroke. Blood clots can also block blood flow to other organs.

The risk of stroke from atrial fibrillation rises as you grow older. The following health conditions also increase your risk:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Some valvular heart disease
  • Stroke

To reduce your risk of stroke or damage to other organs caused by blood clots, your doctor may prescribe a blood-thinning medication (anticoagulant), such as:

  • Apixaban (Eliquis)
  • Dabigatran (Pradaxa)
  • Edoxaban (Savaysa)
  • Rivaroxaban (Xarelto)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)

Sometimes, if you can't take blood-thinning medications, your doctor may recommend a procedure called left atrial appendage closure to seal a small sac (appendage) in your left atrium, where most clots form in people with atrial fibrillation. A closure device is gently guided through a catheter to the appendage. Once the device is in place, the catheter is removed. The device is left permanently in place. Surgery to close the left atrial appendage is an option for some people already having heart surgery.

Living a healthy lifestyle can improve your heart health and reduce your risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Aim to include healthy habits in your life such as:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating heart-healthy foods
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control

Managing your atrial fibrillation and any other conditions you have that increase your risk of stroke also can help you reduce your risk of stroke.

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