Take Your Pulse to Reduce Stroke – Atrial Fibrillation.

Take Pulse Atrial FibrillationTake Your Pulse! Reduce Stroke – Atrial Fibrillation.

I have not posted too often over Christmas and New Year because I have been having way too much fun! However, now the dust has settled on my partying antics it has given me time to consider my options for a New Years Resolution.
My New Years Resolution is to take my Pulse when I wake up and before I go to bed (if I remember) and I recommend that you do too – especially if you are over 60 Years old.

Why become ‘Pulse Aware’?

Atrial Fibrillation (AF)! AF is a VERY common arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) that is known to be a leading cause of Stroke. It can often be detected by taking someone’s pulse including your own and feeling to see if your heart rate and rhythm is irregular. Though not a conclusive diagnostic tool itself, an irregular pulse would be followed up by a 12 Lead ECG that could diagnose the arrhythmia. Medications and Treatments are routinely used to tackle the arrhythmia and reduce the increased risk of Stroke that AF provides.
If you have Atrial Fibrillation your risk of Stroke increases by almost 5 times…

Take Pulse Atrial Fibrillation
Taken from the AF Report 2012

What are my chances of developing Atrial Fibrillation?

Well there are risk factors that increase your chances; Hypertension, Increased Age, Heart Failure, Diabetes, Hyperthyroidism and Heart Disease to name a few but ultimately it is not fully understood and there seems to be a genetic element too. The AF Report 2012 mentioned above in surmised that more than 1 in 4 people over the age of 40 will develop Atrial Fibrillation at some point and the high risk group does tend to be people of 60/65 years or more.
So actually the chances you will develop AF are relatively high… but do not panic it is very treatable and the real dangers of AF are in the population that do not know they have it!

Surely I will just know if my Heart becomes Irregular?

Actually a study in 2003 found that at least half of people with Atrial Fibrillation do not feel any symptoms (Barthélémy, J-C. Et al 2003). Those who do have symptoms report….
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Faintness or confusion
  • Fatigue when exercising
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure 

Take Pulse Atrial FibrillationHow to take your own Pulse?

The easiest and quickest way to take your pulse is by feeling your Radial Artery. Your Radial artery is the one that supplies most of your blood down your arm and into your hand. To take your pulse simply take two or three fingers and press them in a line along the outside of your wrists flexor tendons. See picture to the Right!!
Practicality – It takes me about 15 seconds to have a good feel of my pulse and check that it is regular – This really won’t add to a list of continuing chores. I have got so good I often check mine when someone boring is talking to me 🙂

What would AF feel like?

Most commonly your pulse will feel erratic with no constant rhythm. A regular pulse is very rhythmic. If I was to use sound to demonstrate what I mean by regular and irregular…
A regular pulse would feel like this…
An irregular pulse would feel like this… but maybe not sooo fast! The heart rate of AF varies from person to person but it is irregular!

Would monitoring our Pulse make a Difference?

Yes! Indications that screening for Atrial fibrillation (even in its simplest form) yields results does already exist. A 12-month study by Fitzmaurice et al. (2007) assessed whether screening improved the detection of Atrial fibrillation whilst comparing systematic and opportunistic screening in medical practices.
The study spanned 50 practices and 14,802 patients aged 65 or over. In the 25 control practices no active screening took place. The other 25 practices took part in either systematic screening, which involved inviting all patients over 65 for ECG or opportunistic screening, which involved taking the pulse of patients and following up irregular pulses with a 12 lead ECG.
The detection of new cases of Atrial Fibrillation was 1.63% a year statistically more significant than the 1.04% in control practices. Systematic and opportunistic screening yielded similar numbers of new AF cases with 1.62% and 1.64% respectively.

What to do if you find an Irregular Pulse?

If you find your pulse to be irregular then you should alert a medical professional so that it can be investigated and treated if necessary.

So do not obsess but why not get you and your loved ones (of a certain age) to just occasionally monitor their pulse – chances are it will be fine, but if you do detect an irregular rhythm you can get help that may well save you from having a Stroke. I think this makes for quite a simple New Years Resolution if avoiding Chocolate and Alcohol is just too much 😉
Time to cook dinner!
Thanks for Reading
Cardiac Technician
Barthélémy, J-C. et al. (2003). Automatic cardiac event recorders reveal paroxysmal atrial fibrillation after unexplained strokes or transient ischemic attacks. Annals of Non-Invasive Electrocardiology. 8 (3), p194-199.
Fitzmaurice, D. et al. (2007). Screening versus routine practice in detection of atrial fibrillation in patients aged 65 or over: cluster randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal. 335 (1), p335-383.
The Atrial Fibrillation Association (AFA) and Anti Coagulation Europe (2012). The AF Report – Atrial Fibrillation: Preventing a Stroke Crisis. London: AFA ACE. p1-30. 

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