Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a major risk factor for stroke. In fact, people with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke than people who don't. About 15 percent of people who suffer strokes have AFib too.

If you have been diagnosed with AFib, understand that there is a lot you can do to help prevent an AFib-related stroke. Studies show that three out of four AFib-related strokes can be averted.

Risk factors

Some stroke risk factors you can control, while others you can't.

Factors out of your control

  • Personal or family history of stroke and heart attack.

  • Age. Being 55 or older increases stroke risk.

  • Race. African-Americans face a higher risk of stroke than people of other ethnic backgrounds.

  • Gender. Men are at greater risk for stroke than women. On average, women are older when they have strokes, but they are more likely to die of strokes than men.

Factors you can control

On the other hand, you can control lifestyle habits, such as diet and exercise. The Stroke Foundation and the National Stroke Association describe how making the simple lifestyle changes outlined below can help reduce your risks of stroke dramatically:

  • Control your blood pressure. If left untreated, high blood pressure can become a major risk factor for stroke. Some steps to take: exercise, keep your stress levels in check, maintain a healthy weight, and limit sodium and alcohol. Incorporating more potassium to your diet can also help.

  • Stop smoking. Smoking doubles your risk of stroke. It damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and makes the heart work harder. If that's not enough, your secondhand smoke increases stroke risks for the nonsmokers around you.

  • Eat right. Eat less cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fats to help reduce plaque buildup in your arteries.

  • Consume five or more servings of fruits or vegetables daily.

  • Hold the salt. Research continues to show that salty diets increase stroke risks, especially for older people.

  • Exercise regularly. Consistent aerobic exercise can help lower your blood pressure, increase your HDL cholesterol levels (the "good" cholesterol), and improve your overall heart health.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight contributes to a wide range of health risks, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, all of which can contribute to a stroke. Losing as little as 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels.

  • Control diabetes. Those with diabetes face many of the health problems that increase risks for stroke. Along with medication, you can keep your blood sugar levels in check through the same means prescribed for lowering stroke risks, including diet, exercise, and weight control.

  • Limit alcohol. Many studies have linked alcohol to stroke. However, some research has found that consuming small amounts of alcohol may help prevent ischemic stroke (blockage of arteries to the brain) and decrease blood clots. Generally, doctors recommend drinking in moderation (no more than two drinks a day) or not at all, depending on your individual situation.

If you have atrial fibrillation and are concerned about stroke, talk with your doctor about the lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risks.