Three out of four people who have a stroke have high blood pressure. In one out of five strokes, the person has atrial fibrillation — also called afib. About 800,000 Americans experience a stroke each year. The biggest cause of strokes is high blood pressure; however, atrial fibrillation is a second. What does this mean for you?
If you have both high blood pressure and AFib, you could be at higher risk for having a stroke. This is especially true if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure and do not check your numbers with a digital blood pressure monitor.
The Connection between AFib and Hypertension
Atrial fibrillation is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure in adults. However, just because you have high blood pressure doesn’t mean you have AFib, only a cardiologist can tell you that. But if you do have high blood pressure, have poor eating habits, and an unhealthy lifestyle then you are at risk of developing AFib.
Why does this happen? When you have hypertension your arteries are under a lot of pressure. The pressure weakens the arteries and narrows them so it is difficult for blood to flow through them. When blood can’t flow like it is supposed to, then the heart muscle is less efficient. Once low blood and damaged arteries occur, these can interfere with your heart’s electrical signals, which can create AFib.
What is AFib?
Atrial fibrillation is a condition that makes your heart beat too fast or flutter. The electrical signals in your heart are not working properly, which causes an irregular heart rhythm. When this happens, your blood can pool and form clots, which is where the high risk for stroke and other complications comes in.
Symptoms of AFib
Not everyone has the same symptoms when it comes to AFib. Age will affect what type of symptoms you have. For example, older people often don’t have symptoms. What causes your AFib will also determine what type of symptoms you experience.
The most common symptoms of AFib include:
- Short of breath
- Pain in the chest
- Pressure in the chest
- Heart palpitations
Atrial fibrillation sort of feels like a flutter in your chest. You might experience a faster heartbeat, or it might feel like your heart is racing or pounding in your chest. You may notice something feels off but can’t quite place it. If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor or cardiologist to make an appointment.
How Does it Relate to Strokes?
Our brains need oxygen and blood to function. If blood and oxygen don’t reach the brain then brain cells start to die. For those with high blood pressure, the arteries are gradually damaged, which includes the arteries going to the brain.
When the arteries are weakened, there is a chance they rupture near the brain or they become blocked by buildup. If you have AFib, your heartbeat increases and allows blood to pool in the heart. Pooling blood can form clots, which then travel to the brain and cause strokes by blocking the artery or blood vessels.
Symptoms of a Stroke
It is important to know the signs of a stroke so you can get help right away. Calling emergency and getting help increases the chances of survival when you have a stroke. The biggest things to watch for include:
- Facial drooping — if you notice one side of the face is drooping or if it feels numb. If the person smiles and the smile is uneven.
- Arm weakness — check if one arm is weaker than the other. Is one arm numb? Raise both arms and if one drifts downward that could be a sign of a stroke.
- Speech — if the person's speech is slurred or you have a hard time understanding what they are saying.
- Time to call for help — call for help even if the symptoms go away.
Other symptoms of a stroke include:
- Trouble Walking
- Trouble Seeing
- Severe Headache
Not everyone experiences stroke symptoms the same way. If you suspect you are having a stroke, call for help right away.
Reduce Your Risk for Strokes
If you have high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, or both, there is something you can do to reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Keep an eye on your blood pressure and try to bring it down. A portable digital blood pressure monitor is the easiest way to check your numbers often. Eat a diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains. Try to limit saturated fat, trans fat, salt, and cholesterol in your diet.
If you are prescribed medication for AFib and high blood pressure, remember to take it as prescribed. Don’t skip a day or stop taking it without first talking to your doctor.
Limit your alcohol to one to two drinks per day and don’t smoke. Try to maintain a healthy weight and get regular physical activity.
If you have questions on how to further reduce your risk for stroke or what a healthy diet looks like, talk to your doctor.
Keep an Eye on High Blood Pressure
The easiest way to control your high blood pressure is to check your blood pressure regularly. Whether you are at home or on the go, it is important to know what makes your blood pressure increase versus what you do that maintains it. By making lifestyle changes now, you can reduce the risk of strokes and AFib for the future.