About one in six strokes can be traced to atrial fibrillation. Doctors now have newer and better options to lessen this risk.
Close to one in 10 people ages 65 or older have atrial fibrillation (afib), the most common heart rhythm disorder. During a bout of afib, the usually rhythmic contractions of the heart's upper chambers (the atria) are replaced by an ineffectual quiver. While the symptoms, which include a racing heartbeat, dizziness, and shortness of breath, are troublesome for some people, the real threat lies in the increased risk of stroke that accompanies the condition.
When the heart takes on the afib rhythm, blood does not completely move out of the atria. Instead, it tends to pool and clot in a pouchlike extension in the upper left quadrant of the heart, called the left atrial appendage. If these clots break loose, they may travel to the brain and cause a blockage. This is known as an ischemic stroke.
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