Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. A normal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you are resting.
Slough, Bracknell & Ascot, and Windsor, Ascot & Maidenhead clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are encouraging people to check their pulses to save lives – it’s the easiest way to detect the condition.
The British Heart Foundation offers the following advice on how to check your pulse:
1. Put one of your hands out so you are looking at your palm
2. Use the index finger and middle finger of your other hand and place the skin of these fingertips on the inside of your wrist. You should place them, at the base of your thumb near where the strap of a watch would sit
3. Press lightly and feel the pulse – if you can’t feel anything press slightly harder or move your fingers around until you feel your pulse
4. Once you’ve found your pulse, continue to feel it for about 20-30 seconds Feel the rhythm of the pulse to see whether it’s regular or not
A normal pulse should follow a steady beat. If you have atrial fibrillation your pulse will usually feel irregular and unpredictable, as well as sometimes fast and weaker. If your pulse feels like this, or if you are worried, please contact your GP practice.
Approximately 1 million people across the UK are affected by the condition. If left undetected, it can increase a person’s risk of stroke fivefold.
Symptoms can include dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness. You may have noticeable heart palpitations – the heart feels like it’s pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for a few seconds or minutes. However, not everyone will experience such symptoms and some people may be completely unaware that their heart rate is irregular.
Adults of any age can suffer with atrial fibrillation, but it becomes more common as you get older. About 7 in 100 people over 65 have the condition and more men than women have it. People with conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), atherosclerosis, or a heart valve problem are also more likely to have it.
Doctor Anant Sachdev, a GP in Bracknell and a clinical lead for cardiology for the three CCGs, said: “Raising awareness to help identify and treat people with atrial fibrillation is one of four key areas of the east Berkshire cardiology programme. We want to improve cardiology services and the quality of care that patients receive. One of the ways we can do that is to show patients how they can care for themselves in certain situations.
“Checking your pulse in an important factor in good self-care and I would encourage people to carry out the simple check in the comfort of their own homes.
“Early detection and appropriate medical management can help patients enjoy a healthier and happier life for longer, avoiding long-term conditions such as stroke which can leave some people with severe disabilities.“