Reduce your risk of stroke if you have atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation can lead to blood clots and stroke. Find out how to manage your risk.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder, you may be at risk of stroke.

In atrial fibrillation, blood can pool in the heart's upper chambers (atria) and form blood clots. If a blood clot forms, it could dislodge 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.

Your risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation may be higher if you're an older age and if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, a history of heart failure or previous stroke, or other factors. If you have certain types of valvular heart disease, your risk is much higher.

To reduce your risk of stroke or damage to other organs caused by blood clots, your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven), dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto) or apixaban (Eliquis).

In some cases, your doctor may recommend interventions to close a small sac (appendage) in your left atrium, where most clots form in people with atrial fibrillation. In a procedure called left atrial appendage closure, a catheter is used to guide the insertion of a closure device. Once the device is positioned to effectively seal the left atrial appendage, the catheter is removed and the device is left permanently in place. Surgical procedures that close the left atrial appendage are also an option for some people.

Living a healthy lifestyle also can help you 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.

Nov. 18, 2017 See more In-depth