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Check Your Pulse

More than 1 million Americans have an irregular heartbeat, which doctors call atrial fibrillation (AF). Up to 15 percent of people with AF suffer ischemic strokes each year. "And 70 percent of those are severe strokes," says Dr. Hachinski. "Controlling AF can cut your stroke risk by two-thirds."

How it raises stroke risk: In AF, unsteady heartbeats allow blood to pool and form tiny clots in the heart. When a strong beat pushes these along to the brain, the risk of stroke rises four to six times higher than normal.

Tap out your own beat: Find your pulse at your neck or wrist with the flat pad of your fingertip. Once you detect the beat, repeat the rhythm out loud: dum-dum-dum-dum. If what you get is more like dum-dum-da-dum or some other variation, talk with your doctor about whether you have AF and what to do. Top AF treatments are electrical stimuli to regulate heartbeat (called cardioversion) and clot-preventing medications such as aspirin or warfarin.

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