How steady is your heart beat?

If a drummer misses a beat, most music fans would notice. But if you miss a heart beat, chances are you won’t think twice about it. Yet atrial fibrillation (AF) – the most common abnormal heart rhythm problem in the UK – significantly increases the risk of stroke.

The problem is, 50 percent of those living with AF don’t realise they have it.

A new health campaign called Hey You hopes to change all that. Aiming to increase awareness of AF-related stroke risk, the campaign wants to encourage people with uncontrolled AF to talk to their GP to make sure they’re doing everything they can to reduce their risk of stroke.

AF is thought to affect around 1.5 million people in the UK, and is associated with heart failure, poor mental health and reduced quality of life. If you’re affected by it, your risk of having a stroke is six times higher than someone who doesn’t have AF.

“Many don’t recognise the symptoms [of AF] until they have a life-threatening stroke,” says Eve Knight, co-founder and chief executive of AntiCoagulation Europe, one of the organisations supporting the campaign.

“As well as being a major cause of death, a stroke can dramatically disrupt the lives of survivors and their families, and many people who have had a stroke live with disability and reduced quality of life.”

Age-related condition

AF can affect anyone at any age but it’s most likely in those aged 65 or older. The condition affects 1.5 million people in the UK, including around one in 200 50-59-year-olds and nearly one in 10 people aged 80+. And as the population grows older, AF is expected to more than double during the next 50 years.

An irregular heart rhythm is the main symptom of AF, but you may also feel tired, short of breath, dizzy or faint – all of which are often dismissed as normal or part of growing older. The campaign also points out that better awareness and management of AF-related stroke risk could help prevent up to 7,000 strokes and 2,000 premature deaths each year.

“Despite having more effective preventive treatment options than ever before, it is a tragedy to see how many patients still suffer avoidable strokes,” says Dr Yassir Javaid, General Practice Awards’ GP Of The Year in 2015.

“Many people are not aware that they have AF and are also not aware of the risks associated with AF. What is even more concerning about stroke caused by AF is that it’s more likely to cause death or disability than non-AF related stroke, as well as leading to longer hospital stays and higher healthcare costs.

“If you have been diagnosed with AF, talk to your doctor to make sure you’re doing everything you can – including receiving appropriate treatment and care – to reduce your risk of stroke and enable you to continue living your life to the full.”

Find out more about AF and the Hey You campaign at www.heyyou.org.uk.

If you have AF and want to reduce your stroke risk, ask your local Careway pharmacist about the simple lifestyle changes you could make that would help, such as quitting smoking, losing weight and drinking less coffee and alcohol. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.