Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of irregular and often abnormally fast heartbeat. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute. Many people have this but go undiagnosed.
It can increase the risk of a blood clot forming inside the chambers of the heart, which can lead to a stroke. AF increases stroke risk by around five times.
Although AF can greatly increase the risk of stroke, there are other factors that can contribute to a stroke. These include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, being overweight and diabetes.
With appropriate treatment, the risk of stroke from AF can be substantially reduced. A blood thinner is the most effective treatment to reduce the risk of stroke in people with AF. Most will require blood thinners, but a small number won’t.
Examples of blood thinners include the well-known warfarin and some newer medicines such as rivaroxaban, apixaban and dabigatran. Aspirin is no longer advised for use in AF in the “NICE guidelines” in England since it is not considered to be effective. (Aspirin is still used in other heart conditions apart from AF).