It is estimated that around 500,000 people in the UK have undiagnosed atrial fibrillation (AF), a heart condition whereby a person has an irregular heart beat (pulse). Compared to the general population, a person with AF is four times more likely to have a stroke, which is the major risk attached. They are also more likely to develop heart failure, and may experience troublesome side-effects in their day to day lives such as fatigue, palpitations, dizziness, chest pain or fainting. Arrhythmias in general can also lead to sudden cardiac death and contribute to around 100,000 deaths a year.
AF tends to go undiagnosed primarily because it can present without symptoms and patients can also switch between their irregular rhythm and a regular one, which means it can be missed. Regular pulse checks, which can take less than a minute, is a simple and effective tool to detect the presence of AF or other abnormal heart rhythms. With minimal training, anyone can be taught to identify AF, but a regular check by your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist could help to identify underlying issues quickly and allow for intervention before any serious issues arise. In fact, modern technology has made identification of rhythm disorders much easier, and has led to patients self-referring due to feedback from their personal devices such as smart watches.
Patients with AF often require two types of medicines- one to manage the rate or rhythm and another to “thin the blood” (an anticoagulant). Both of these are of critical importance to prevent complications of AF and patients should be made aware of this fact and encouraged to be compliant with them. Poor compliance is linked to poorer health outcomes and can be devastating. Compliance tends to fall when patients are unaware of the significance of their medicines or they experience side-effects which are not managed appropriately. Patients on these medicines should be having yearly medication reviews at least. This heart rhythm awareness week, empower and encourage people to “know their pulse” and make it part of their general health considerations.