Stroke Death Falls NEWS-12-30-02The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and Medtronic plc, a maker of medical devices, announced a plan on Friday to work toward decreasing recurring strokes in patients whose strokes have no known cause.

The two organizations announced the arrangement at the International Stroke Conference in Nashville.

Thirty percent of ischemic strokes – the most common type of stroke caused by blocked blood vessels to the brain – remain without a definite cause after thorough evaluation and are called cryptogenic.

With use of devices to monitor the heart rhythm for prolonged periods of time after the stroke, some of these patients with no determined cause of stroke will be later found to have brief episodes of atrial fibrillation, according to Lee H. Schwamm, M.D., executive vice chairman of the department of neurology and director of stroke services at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart beats irregularly or rapidly and occurs in up to 20 percent of stroke patients. It is often undiagnosed because it occurs sporadically and may not produce symptoms.

Constant, long-term heart monitoring in cryptogenic stroke patients has been shown to increase the rates of detecting atrial fibrillation, thus helping physicians detect and diagnose atrial fibrillation and potentially prevent another stroke.

As the cost and convenience of outpatient cardiac rhythm recorders improve, they will likely play an increasingly important role in the detection and diagnosis of atrial fibrillation and other abnormal heart rhythms that may increase the risk of stroke, said Schwamm, also an AHA/ASA volunteer.

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