Atrial fibrillation, a type of heart arrhythmia, is a leading cause of stroke. Additionally, strokes may be associated with arrhythmia onset. However, such arrhythmias tend to resolve within a few days of the stroke.

A heart arrhythmia is when a person’s heart beats irregularly.

A stroke is when a part of the brain does not receive enough blood. This can arise due to a brain bleed or because a blood clot is blocking a blood vessel in the brain.

This article details the connection between arrhythmias and stroke. It also lists symptoms of both before discussing the outlook for arrhythmia-induced stroke.

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According to a 2022 review, some arrhythmias are a leading cardiac cause of stroke. Having an arrhythmia can mean that a person is roughly five times more likely to have a stroke relative to the general population.

Additionally, strokes may have an association with arrhythmia onset. An older 2012 study measured the rates of arrhythmia within 72 hours of entering a stroke unit. The study found that roughly 25.1% of its participants had an arrhythmia.

The study also found that the risk of arrhythmia was highest within 24 hours of entering the stroke unit. This risk gradually declined during the 72-hour window.

However, healthcare professionals do not yet understand why this occurs, and there may be several factors that might be involved, such as:

  • cardiac disease
  • vascular risk factors
  • stroke severity

Which types of arrhythmia are associated with stroke?

According to a 2022 paper, atrial fibrillation is an arrhythmia that can lead to stroke.

Atrial fibrillation (AFIb) is when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat with an irregular rhythm. When they beat irregularly, blood can pool within them, eventually forming clots. If those clots travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke.

The following arrhythmia can arise from stroke:

  • Ventricular arrhythmic tachycardia: This is when the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) beat too quickly and irregularly.
  • Supraventricular arrhythmic tachycardia: This is when the heart beats too quickly and irregularly due to a problem above the atrioventricular (AV) node. The AV node is a small structure toward the center of the heart.
  • Sinus-node dysfunction: This arrhythmia arises from the sinus node, which is toward the top of the right atrium. It can stop the heart from pumping enough blood to the body.
  • Bradyarrhythmia: This refers to an unusually low resting heart rate.
  • Atrioventricular block: This arrhythmia occurs when electrical signals struggle to move from the atria to the ventricles.

Although having atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke, some things may lower that risk.

According to a 2020 literature review, in those with arrhythmia, anticoagulants form the main form of stroke prevention. Anticoagulants are medications that prevent the blood from clotting.

There has been extensive research on the best anticoagulants for people with an arrhythmia. Currently, scientists and doctors are interested in oral nonvitamin K anticoagulants.

These medications seem to be as effective as more traditional treatments, such as warfarin, while also being safer.

Monitoring a person’s AFib may also help in preventing strokes.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), arrhythmias can present with a range of possible symptoms. For instance, in the earlier stages of arrhythmia, an individual may experience a heart palpitation or the sensation of a skipped heartbeat. This can also come in quick succession and feel like a fluttering sensation in the neck or chest.

After more time, an individual may experience the following symptoms:

These symptoms can indicate a more serious arrhythmia. An individual with these symptoms should seek medical advice. Furthermore, an individual should receive urgent medical care if they collapse. This can indicate a heart attack, which sometimes follows arrhythmias.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke symptoms include:

  • sudden numbness or weakness in the face or extremities, which might only affect one side of the body
  • sudden confusion
  • sudden problems with speaking, or understanding speech
  • sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  • sudden difficulties with walking
  • sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or loss of coordination
  • a sudden and extremely severe headache

Strokes are medical emergencies. An individual with these symptoms requires immediate medical attention.

Learn more about the symptoms of stroke.

An older 2015 study found that the 5-year survival rate following such a stroke due to atrial fibrillation is around 39.2%.

Additionally, the 5-year recurrence rate is around 21.5%. This risk increases if someone’s atrial fibrillation is persistent.

Anyone with signs of an arrhythmia should seek a doctor’s advice. By spotting an arrhythmia quickly, an individual can take up preventive measures as soon as possible.

An individual who experiences a stroke or heart attack needs urgent medical care.

Heart arrhythmias can cause strokes. Individuals with arrhythmias are many times more likely to have a stroke compared to the general population.

Additionally, strokes can also lead to arrhythmias. These tend to be more common in the days following a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation is the specific arrhythmia associated with stroke. It occurs when the atria beat irregularly. This irregular beating can lead to blood pooling within the atria and the formation of clots. If these clots travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke.

Anticoagulants are the mainstay of treatment to prevent strokes in individuals with heart arrhythmias. These medications prevent blood clotting, lowering the risk of stroke.