Reminder- Stroke Warning Signs

October 27, 2022

Doctor holds CT scan showing stroke in patient's brain

A stroke is a debilitating and potentially fatal condition in which a blood clot loosens and travels to the brain blocking blood flow and causing brain tissue to be damaged or destroyed. The effects of stroke can be mild or severe. Patients who are found and treated early are better able to recover than patients who receive delayed care and often must live with a permanent disability.

Why, though, are we reminding our patients about the signs of stroke? Does it have anything to do with heart rhythm disorders? The answer is a resounding yes.

Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, a condition affecting upwards of five million Americans and 30 million people worldwide, is a leading cause of stroke. The risk of stroke is five times higher in a patient with Afib than in one who does not suffer from this heart rhythm condition. It’s worth mentioning that the risk for heart attack and long-term congestive heart failure is also significantly increased in patients with Afib.

What Causes This Increase in Stroke Risk?

Ultimately, if we look at the anatomy of the heart, we see a small outpouching in the left upper chamber known as the left atrial appendage or LAA. We do not know much about the function of the LAA – you can consider the heart’s version of the appendix – it has no apparent use, and we can live without it. However, it can be a significant problem for people with Afib. When the heart does not pump blood efficiently, blood can begin to pool in the LAA. This pooling blood starts to thicken and clot. If one of these clots were to escape at any point, it could easily travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Treatment for Afib is primarily a stroke reduction exercise despite it also offering comfort by treating the heart rhythm.

So What Are the Signs of a Stroke?

You may remember the acronym FAST, but it is worth repeating: Face, Arms, Speech, Time. If you notice facial drooping, difficulty raising the arms, confusion, slurring of speech, problems walking, difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes, or even a severe headache, it is essential that you call 911 immediately. These could be the signs of a stroke.

TIA – Transient Ischemic Attack

Often, strokes are preceded by a transient ischemic attack or TIA, a mini-stroke. TIAs involve stroke symptoms that only last for a short period and do not leave lasting effects on the brain. However, this does not mean they should be ignored—quite the opposite. TIAs precede a significant proportion of major strokes. Therefore, if you experience any symptoms of a TIA (similar to a stroke but temporary), you should visit the emergency room immediately.

Should you or a loved one be experiencing cardiac arrhythmia, especially atrial fibrillation, we encourage you to visit Dr. Banker and learn more about potential treatment options that may range from lifestyle changes in medication to procedural solutions that treat the underlying cause of the irregular heartbeat. Schedule a consultation with us or fill out our contact form.