Those little runs of racing heartbeat that you dismiss as nothing -- or don't even feel -- do boost your risk of suffering a stroke or of dislodging a dangerous blood clot, a new study says.
It's widely known that a person with atrial fibrillation is at increased risk of stroke. A-fib, as it's called, is a condition in which there's misfiring in the electrical system of the heart's blood-collection chambers, causing these -- the atria -- to quiver and pump erratically. Because the condition is thought to be responsible for 1 in 5 ischemic strokes (in which a blood clot reduces blood flow to the brain), physicians treat patients who have it with blood-thinners such as warfarin or two new anticoagulant medications named dabigatran (marketed as Pradaxa) or rivaroxiban (marketed as Xarelto).
About 2.6 million Americans probably have atrial fibrillation -- many more than are treated for stroke prevention, according to a report released earlier this week. But the latest study suggests that even more may suffer a stroke after episodes of arrhythmia that are less severe or sustained.
Research published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked 2,580 patients with high blood pressure who had recently had a pacemaker implanted. The electronic medical devices are designed to shock a heart suffering from ventricular fibrillation into normal rhythm and avert a heart attack. But they're also able to detect atrial fibrillation.