Atrial fibrillation patients with high blood pressure face higher stroke risk. The risk of stroke was found to be 50 percent higher among atrial fibrillation patients with uncontrolled blood pressure. The findings suggest that hypertension should be closely monitored in atrial fibrillation patients in order to reduce the risk of stroke, among other complications.
The researchers used data for over 18,000 patients with atrial fibrillation from a large study known as ARISTOTLE to understand the impact of high blood pressure on their health.
Strokes were more common among atrial fibrillation patients who had a history of blood pressure or those who developed high blood pressure during the study.
Lead author Meena Rao explained, “This study is unique in that we looked at patients with atrial fibrillation who had a history of high blood pressure, patients who had high blood pressure measurement at the start of the study, and blood pressure control during the course of the study. We found that having high blood pressure at any point during the trial led to an increased risk of stroke by approximately 50 percent in patients with atrial fibrillation. This highlights the importance of blood pressure control in addition to anticoagulation to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation.”
High blood pressure and its effect on stroke
High blood pressure is a contributing factor to many cardiovascular events, including stroke. Roughly three of four first-time stroke patients have high blood pressure. Stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts. Nearly 800,000 Americans a year suffer from stroke.
High blood pressure is problematic in terms of the stroke risk because the pressure against the artery walls is too high and over time leads to damage. Weak blood vessels have a higher risk of bursting. Damaged arteries are more likely to have plaque buildup along the walls, contributing to blood clot formation.
Atrial fibrillation further adds to the risk of stroke, because the variations in heart rhythm cause changes in the blood flow. Rapid heartbeat can lead to blood pooling carrying blood clots to the brain.
The good news is, high blood pressure can be managed either with medical intervention or lifestyle changes. Especially if you have atrial fibrillation, it is imperative that you take the necessary steps to reduce your blood pressure along with other stroke risk factors.
Lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of stroke
Stroke Prevention Step #1 – Don’t smoke
When it comes to stroke prevention, quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke should be your top priority. This is important because smoking doubles your risk of having a stroke and substantially increases your risk of fatal heart problems such as coronary heart disease. The good news is, it’s never too late to quit. According to The National Stroke Association, a person’s stroke risk is greatly reduced no matter how old they are when they decide to quit smoking.
Stroke Prevention Step #2 – Monitor alcohol intake
Although there is some evidence that moderate alcohol consumption can lower heart disease and stroke risk, any potential benefits are negated when you drink too much. Males should not drink more than three alcoholic beverages per day and females should drink no more than two. Any more than that, and you increase your heart attack and stroke risk.
Stroke Prevention Step #3 – Reduce stress
Stress can increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels – both of which increase the risk of stroke. Even more problematic is the fact that stress can make you more likely to develop atherosclerosis (a condition characterized by narrowing of the arteries), and approximately 80 percent of all strokes are caused by atherosclerosis. Some good ways to reduce stress include sharing your feelings, being more assertive, learning to say no, taking time to laugh, giving yourself some alone time every day, treating yourself to vacations, keeping a journal, taking a bath, meditating, exercising, and doing something that makes you smile.
Stroke Prevention Step #4 – Exercise regularly
Exercise is an essential part of stroke prevention because it helps to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, prevent diabetes, and lower stress levels – all of which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Perhaps even more important is the fact that exercise helps you to obtain and/or maintain a healthy body weight, which vastly reduces your stroke risk.
Stroke Prevention Step #5 – Avoid junk food
Consuming a healthy diet is arguably the most important thing you can do when it comes to stroke prevention. A healthy diet reduces the same heart attack and stroke risk factors as exercising, but its effects are even more profound. To reduce your stroke risk, start by eliminating or vastly reducing your intake of refined and packaged foods, and base you diet on whole, unprocessed foods instead.