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Survey shows that many seniors are unaware of atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, or AF, a type of irregular heartbeat, is a major risk factor for stroke, but according to a recent national survey conducted by the not-for-profit Alliance for Aging Research, 80 percent of 1,000 people polled were not aware of this fact.

Moreover, six out of 10 respondents were unaware that appropriate treatment may help prevent AF-related strokes.

And while the prevalence of AF increases with age, nearly 70 percent of the 157 survey respondents who were 65 years old or older did not know they are at increased risk for this condition.

What is the link between AF and stroke?

In AF, the two upper chambers of the heart — called the atria — quiver instead of contracting effectively. When this happens, blood in these chambers can pool and clot.

If a piece of the blood clot breaks off, travels to an artery in the brain, and becomes lodged, it may cause a stroke.

Common symptoms of AF include palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, weakness or chest pain. However, there may be no symptoms at all. Because symptoms vary greatly, the best way to identify AF is to visit a doctor.

How do I learn more?

Utilizing figures from the American Medical Association, the number of Americans who search the Internet for medical advice on an average day is greater than the number of Americans who visit doctors, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But with so many health Web sites, it can be difficult to know where to look for accurate, easy-to-understand medical information.

A Web site,, developed by a pharmaceutical company and a team of medical experts and a patient advocate from six leading institutions, recently was launched to help educate patients about AF. provides information about AF symptoms, causes and risks, to help patients better understand their condition.

The site also includes treatment options that may help decrease their risk of stroke. AF patients and their caregivers also can call (888) 541-7008, where they can request free educational brochures about AF in either English or Spanish.

"The stroke risk associated with AF is significant, so it's natural for patients to feel concerned when they are first diagnosed with AF," stated Dr. Amir K. Jaffer, medical director of the IMPACT Center and the Anticoagulation Clinic at the Cleveland Clinic and a member of the editorial board for

"But patients and their families need to understand that the risk of stroke associated with AF may be reduced through treatment with anticoagulants, which help prevent clots from forming. Awareness of AF and related treatments represents an important step in preventing strokes in patients with AF,'' Jaffer added.

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