Skip to main content
Home » Cardiology » Be alert to the symptoms of atrial fibrillation
AF and Stroke 2020

Be alert to the symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Image supplied by Arrhythmia Alliance

Trudie Lobban MBE

Founder, Arrhythmia Alliance

It’s important to think: ‘Detect, Protect, Correct’ when it comes to atrial fibrillation, says Trudie Lobban MBE, Founder of the Arrhythmia Alliance. Doing so could save your life.

Most heart palpitations are innocent. We all get them from time to time, such as when we’re stressed or anxious. However, atrial fibrillation (AF) — the most common arrhythmia, or heart rhythm disorder — is different.

It means that your heart may not be pumping as well as it should, which can cause blood clots to form. And that can be serious.

The majority of those with AF are 65 and over, although it’s a condition that can occur at any age.

Some people have no symptoms, while others may experience breathlessness or feel as though their heart is beating out of their chest. It can make patients feel very anxious and lethargic.

Worryingly, if you have AF, you are five times more likely to have an AF-related stroke, the most devastating and debilitating type of stroke, which can, in many cases, be fatal.

Therefore, it’s so important to guard against atrial fibrillation by thinking: ‘Detect, Protect, Correct’.

Why you should know the rhythm of your heart

First of all, Detect AF with a mobile ECG monitor or a simple pulse check. Everyone should know the rhythm of their heart through the rhythm of their pulse – and, if this is irregular, see a GP. Sometimes irregular rhythm may be the only symptom of AF.

If AF is diagnosed, doctors will Protect against AF-related stroke with anticoagulation therapy.

Some people have no symptoms, while others may experience breathlessness or feel as though their heart is beating out of their chest. It can make patients feel very anxious and lethargic.

Anticoagulation is not a ‘treatment’ for AF – it does not take away symptoms or the cause of AF.  It does, however, help reduce blood clots forming due to the irregular heart rhythm and therefore greatly reduces the risk of AF-related stroke.

It should also be stressed that NICE no longer recommend aspirin to protect against AF-related stroke.

Finally, healthcare professionals will Correct the irregular rhythm by offering an appropriate drug or surgical treatment in order to safeguard patients, remove their symptoms and help them lead as active a life as possible.

How COVID-19 is changing life for AF patients

Currently, COVID-19 is changing lives in many ways, and that includes how AF patients access medical help or advice, and even the type of anticoagulation therapy they are given.

For example, patients who are prescribed warfarin – a long-established anticoagulant – will need monitoring with regular blood tests. However, to cut down on hospital visits, many doctors are moving patients off warfarin and onto novel oral anticoagulants (NOACs), which, studies show, are as good as, or in some cases slightly better than, warfarin. And, crucially, these don’t require regular blood tests.

Obviously, your healthcare professional will prescribe the anticoagulant that best suits your needs, but, going forward, I believe many more AF patients will be prescribed NOACs.

I also think there’s going to be a huge uptake in telemedicine. After all, if doctors can carry out patient consultations by video call or phone call, it will cut down the number of face-to-face appointments and reduce the risk of hospital or GP surgery infections.

If you are concerned that your heart rhythm is irregular, the plea is: don’t ignore it. Help is available, and you should seek this as soon as possible to avoid serious complications.

Contact the Arrhythmia Alliance or its sister charities; Arrhythmia Alliance (A-A), STARS (Syncope Trust And Reflex anoxic Seizures), and Atrial Fibrillation (AF-Assoc) for information, support and education on all arrhythmias including syncope and atrial fibrillation.
Tel: 01789 867 501 / 502 / 503
Email: [email protected] / [email protected] / [email protected]

Next article