Atrial Fib … When is a stroke not life threatening?

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

Atrial fibrillation patients read this: Strokes may not be life threatening…in the future.

Clinical trials are underway in Columbus, Ohio, to remove blood clots in patients whose stroke symptoms started as many as 24 hours before. Trial participants see overwhelming positive results that could lead to changes and save hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world.

Immediately, I put myself into such a situation as I recalled a conversation with my electrophysiologist 5 years ago. It was in his office during my annual checkup 6 years after my ablation to eliminate 30 years of atrial fib and 5 electrical pathways that needed to be ablated. I stayed on warfarin for a year-and-a-half after the ablation at which point my electrophysiologist reluctantly eliminated it from my list of meds. I had been on that blood thinner for 12 years and atrial fib free for 5 years.

When I turned 75 years of age and was feeling terrific, better than I’d felt in 20 years, I related this info to my doctor and told him I was writing a book about my 35 years of life with atrial fib. Sheepishly he said he wanted to put me back on a blood thinner. I looked at him through squinting eyes. “Why?” I asked. “I don’t want to take a blood thinner,” I said.

He told me that there is a point system for A-Fib patients and that 4 points is the median. Because I am over 75 gives me 2 points and being a woman is 1 point.

“That’s only 3 points. I don’t want to take a blood thinner even if it isn’t warfarin. I haven’t had atrial fib for 6 years, I eat a heart healthy diet, I exercise, my cholesterol numbers are good and even though there are more choices for blood thinners, I don’t want it.”

He told me that I am still a candidate for a stroke.

I asked him, “What are the symptoms of a stroke? Will I know I‘m having one at the time?”

He told me that I would and that stroke symptoms aren’t subtle. I would have 1, maybe 2 hours to get to the hospital to break it up or remove the clot.

“A side effect of the blood thinner you recommend, a brain bleed, is rare. Nevertheless I’ve had rare side effects before. I choose not to take the blood thinner. ”

A compromise was at hand. With that, my electrophysiologist wrote a prescription for a new- to-the- market blood thinner. He didn’t date it and asked me to carry it in my wallet wherever I went. If I go into atrial fib for 6 hours or more, I should get the prescription filled and contact his office. I promised that I would.

That was 6 years ago.  No atrial fib so far. Each year he gives me a new prescription for apixaban. Last year he also gave me a coupon for 2 free weeks of the drug. Next month I’ll be 81. I feel great. A 24 hour window between the beginning and the road to recovery of a stroke will be amazing.

Read my memoir for more about this:  IN A HEARTBEAT, The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib

Buy it from my website: Now on audio book too, click on one of the icons below.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon.

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