An updated American Academy of Neurology (AAN) guideline recommendstaking a blood thinner to reduce your stroke risk if you have atrial fibrillation (AFib). This irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia causes increased blood clots that can escape your heart, travel to your brain and cause a stroke.
According to the AAN’s guideline published in the Neurology journal, about 5 percent of people with untreated atrial fibrillation are likely to suffer a stroke within a year. Educating yourself on AFib and blood clots can lower your chances of experiencing serious and possibly fatal problems.
Detecting Irregular Heartbeat
A normal heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In AFib, abnormal firing of electrical impulses causes your atria or heart’s upper chambers to fibrillate or beat irregularly. Instead of moving blood into your ventricles effectively, this quivering or irregular heartbeat allows blood to slow down or pool, which increases your clotting and stroke risks.
About 15-20 percent of people who suffer strokes have this heart arrhythmia. You may experience a few or no AFib symptoms. They include rapid and irregular heartbeat, chest pain or pressure, fluttering or thumping in your chest, general fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, anxiety, weakness, sweating, confusion and faintness.
Understanding Blood Clot Formation
Your heart pumps blood, a liquid tissue, within your body’s vessels continuously. Blood travels to every cell, organ and part of your body. When you bleed from an injury or blood vessel damage, your body creates blood clots, semi-solid masses of sticky blood cells. They stop the bleeding, seal the damaged vessel and prevent blood from leaking.
After your blood vessel heals, blood clots should dissolve. But a clot that obstructs or stops the flow of oxygen and blood, blocking a vein or artery, can cause serious tissue damage. If it breaks free and starts to travel throughout your body, it can endanger your organs with potentially fatal consequences.
Recognizing Blood Clot Warning Signs
Around one million Americans require hospitalization each year due to blood clots. The annual death total from pulmonary embolisms is 100,000. That’s more than the combined deaths from AIDS, breast cancer and traffic accidents. By knowing the warning signs of typical blood clot locations, you can seek immediate treatment and avoid a fatality.
Heart: If a blood clot blocks an artery that pumps blood into your heart, it can lead to arterial thrombosis, atherosclerosis, angina and heart attack. Symptoms usually start with chest pain that radiates from the center upward to your jaw, back, arms and possibly your abdominal region. A pounding sensation and chest tightness are common. Your heart may beat irregularly, and your pulse rate will accelerate. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, vomiting, nausea, exhaustion, fatigue and fainting.
Brain: Arterial thrombosis, a blood clot blocking an artery that supplies blood to your brain, is one of the leading causes of stroke. Symptoms include severe headaches, difficulty swallowing, confusion and loss of balance and coordination. Effects usually are more prominent on the opposite side of the body. A stroke can cause weakness, loss of sensation or semi-paralysis that affects your face, arm and/or leg. Speech problems occur when it affects the left side of your brain. Facial drooping may cause drooling. Complete paralysis of one entire side of your body and blindness are possible.
Surface veins: Ablood clot can cause inflammation in your surface veins, which may produce discomfort and pain. These clots don’t break loose and travel in your blood stream usually, so they don’t cause blockages and organ complications.
Arms: Venous thromboembolisms disrupt blood flow back to your heart. These clots occur in your arms generally. Symptoms include a warm sensation, swelling, redness and pain. You may experience itchy skin, a rash, prominent veins and a mild fever.
Legs:Symptoms of leg blood clots are similar to those in your arms. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is an abnormal type of blood clotting that occurs in one or more veins, usually in your legs or pelvis. If it travels to your brain, it can cause a stroke. Symptoms of a medical emergency include intense warmth, swelling, red or discolored leg skin, widening or dilation of surface veins, unexplained pain or tenderness in one leg, a dull aching throb in your calves (especially when walking) and a sharp shooting pain when flexing your foot.
Lungs: Pulmonary embolism (PE),a form of DVT, breaks from its original spot in a vein and travels to your lungs via your bloodstream. It can inflict serious damage on your lungs or other organs and can even cause death. Seek immediate medical care if your symptoms include coughing up blood, sudden shortness of breath (even when you’re resting or in a relaxed mood), sharp chest pains and collapsing.
Avoiding Complications with Anticoagulant Treatment
Consult your doctor if you have an arrhythmia or its risk factors. They include age, heart disease, high blood pressure, other chronic conditions, drinking alcohol, obesity and family history. Major blood clot risk factors include leg trauma or injury, major surgery, recent immobility, hospitalization for an acute medical illness, previous DVT or PE and obesity.
Pradaxa (Dabigatran Etexilate) is a prescription anticoagulant medication that prevents stroke-causing blood clots. It’s especially helpful if you have a heart rhythm disorder. In addition to preventing new clots from forming, this blood thinner stops existing clots from growing larger, breaking off and traveling to other parts of your body.