MONDAY, Nov. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors may be able to monitor stroke risk in pacemaker recipients by tracking the incidence of a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, new research suggests.

This method was designed to be 80 percent effective at identifying patients with doubled stroke risk, the study team said. Armed with this information, doctors could then prescribe medication to reduce the likelihood of stroke, they said.

Most episodes of irregular heartbeat are symptomless, they noted.

Dr. Jeff S. Healey, an associate professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is scheduled to present his team's report Monday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.

The researchers tracked more than 2,500 high blood pressure patients across 23 countries between 2004 and 2008.

All were outfitted with a pacemaker. More than a quarter of the patients were diabetic, 15 percent had a history of heart failure and 7 percent had a history of stroke. About 40 percent of the participants were women, and the average overall age was 76.

So-called "atrial high-rate episodes" (AHREs) were identified in 60 percent of the patients, and a little more than half of these were classified as actual irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias).

Experts point out that research presented at meetings does not have to meet the same standards as that published in peer-reviewed journals.

More information

For more on stroke risk, visit the American Heart Association.