Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is a Leading Cause of Stroke

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a leading preventable cause of stroke. Studies suggest it's responsible for 1 in 5 strokes (20%).

Helpful Highlights

  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is definitively associated with stroke. These three things are known: AFib causes stroke, stroke causes AFib, and AFib is associated with other factors that cause stroke.

  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib) itself may not be preventable, but stroke resulting from AFib is preventable.

  • The bottom line is to prevent complications from AFib, like stroke and heart failure, do not let AFib go untreated.

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What it is

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular heartbeat that's caused by a rapid-fire malfunction in the heart's natural pacemaker called the sinoatrial (SA) node. The disruption in the coordinated sequence of contractions causes the atria to twitch erratically and the ventricles to contract more often and irregularly.

  • The sinoatrial (SA) node is a bundle of cells that electrically fires to cause heart muscle contractions.

  • Atria are the upper chambers of the heart that bring blood in.

  • Ventricles are the lower chambers of the heart that push blood out.

The twitching may cause some blood to stay in the heart rather than pass through, and when blood doesn't move, it clots. If those clots are pumped out of the heart and into the brain, they can block vessels and lead to stroke.


AFib makes your loved one five times more likely to have a stroke. Your loved one with AFib should have routine individual stroke risk assessments to make sure they're getting the right treatment and advice.

Strokes due to AFib tend to be more serious, with more damage to the brain and worse long-term effects. Your loved one should accept any treatment needed to reduce their risk of a stroke - such as blood thinners or a pacemaker implant - and make meaningful lifestyle changes.

Stroke prevention

Preventing stroke from AFib is very simple - manage the AFib.

  • Accept therapies offered by your loved one's provider to manage AFib.

  • Learn techniques to restore rhythm control when your loved one feels their heartbeat getting out of control.

  • Strongly encourage your loved one to stop smoking and limit alcohol intake.

  • Develop a diet focused on fresh or frozen (not canned) fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based or lean sources of protein (beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, chicken, fish). An emphasis on potassium-rich foods can help.

  • Get regular physical activity.

  • Manage high blood pressure and limit caffeine intake.

Rhythm restoration techniques

The following techniques can be effective in restoring a regular heart rhythm during an AFib episode. Check with your loved one's provider about any physical limitations or concerns that may make yoga or cardio unsafe.

Cold water. Have your loved one dip their head in cold water or take a cold shower, and drink a glass of ice water.

Yoga poses. Hold popular poses like downward dog and mountain, even if your loved one has no yoga experience.

Valsalva maneuver. A breathing technique performed by pinching the nostrils while keeping the mouth closed and attempting to gently "blow out" for 10 to 15 seconds. This increases the pressure inside the ears and chest, which reduces some heart arrhythmias. Your loved one's ears might pop, and that’s okay, but remind them not to blow too hard.

Belly breathe. Either lying down or comfortably seated in a chair, with eyes closed, have your loved one place one hand over their heart and the other below their rib cage, then breathe in slowly through their nose (feeling their belly rise), and exhale through puckered lips. (They should stop if they start to feel dizzy or experience tingles in their lips or fingers.)

Cardio. While it may seem counterintuitive and can be uncomfortable to start during an AFib episode, have your loved one engage in some cardio activity such as the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike, and of course - walking will do!


Alsheri, A.M. (2019). Stroke in atrial fibrillation: Review of risk stratification and preventive therapy. Journal of Family and Community Medicine, 26(2), 92-97. DOI

American Heart Association

Heart & Stroke

Stroke Association

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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