Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke
Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation, or AF, is one of the most common types of irregular heartbeat in Northern Ireland and increases your risk of stroke by FIVE times. Over 37,000 local people are living with AF, although it is estimated many more are living with the condition undetected.

What are we doing about AF?

We commissioned an independent opinion survey in October 2018 and found that worryingly, only 30 people in every 1000 had heard of AF and the fact that it can increase your risk of stroke by five times.

Of the 30% who have heard of AF:

  • Over a quarter didn’t know about the increased risk of stroke
  • Nearly 10% thought AF does not increase your risk of stroke

It is time that we talk about AF and create more public awareness of this condition and its link to stroke and that is exactly what Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke is doing.

Public Awareness

To increase public awareness, we are running a campaign, supported by MACE, aimed at raising awareness in NI that AF is a serious illness, if left untreated and that it increases the risk of stroke by five times.

We hope to reach the public though billboards and bus shelter ads, radio ads on U105, posters in GP surgeries, pharmacies and libraries. Our campaign is supported by local retailer MACE, who are also displaying posters in their stores, including AF information on the leaflet they send out to the public and having AF testing for customers in selected stores.

We have two leaflets that you can download for more information.

If you want to know more about AF, download our fact sheet. If you have AF, have a look at our patient leaflet.

AF Inquiry

We have commissioned Ulster University, supported by a steering group, to conduct an inquiry into AF in Northern Ireland which will report in Autumn 2019. It is hoped that the results of this inquiry will feed into future policy and health improvements in Northern Ireland and will make a significant difference to public health in our community by reducing avoidable strokes and improving the quality of life for people living with AF.

AF Testing

We have introduced a simple AF detection test to show if you have an irregular heartbeat. It is part of our 30 minute Well Checks.

Click here for more information on our Well Checks.

AF – What you need to know

What is AF?

Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is the most common type of irregular heart rhythm.  It causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

What are the symptoms of AF?

Sometimes people with AF have no symptoms and their condition is only detectable during a medical examination or by having a health check with Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke.

Some people may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Feeling faint at times
  • Being breathless
  • Palpitations or fluttering or “thumping” in the chest

How does AF increase your chance of stroke?

If your heart does not have a regular heartbeat, it may not empty its chambers of blood at each beat. A clot could form in the blood left behind, which can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

People with AF are likely to have a much more severe stroke with:

  • Almost double the death rate from stroke
  • Increased disability from stroke
  • Longer hospital stay
  • Increased risk of a stroke happening again
“When I was diagnosed with AF, I wasn’t particularly worried…I didn’t know it was possible I could have a stroke.”

Rosaleen – NICHS service user

Will AF affect my daily life?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. But with the right treatment plan for AF, you can live a long and healthy life. Treatment plans for AF have two aims – to reduce the risk of stroke and to manage the day to day symptoms and effects of AF.

In addition to taking your medication, you should aim to have a healthy lifestyle which you should discuss with your doctor.

What is the treatment for AF?

If you are diagnosed with AF, your doctor will devise a treatment plan with two aims – to reduce your risk of stroke and to bring the rate and rhythm of your heart under control.

Preventing a stroke

Working with your doctor to reduce stroke risk is the most important thing you can do to make sure you have a good prognosis with atrial fibrillation.

Your doctor may prescribe anti-coagulant medicines (blood thinners) to reduce the risk of blood clot formation. It is important to take anticoagulation medication exactly as prescribed to reduce your risk of stroke.

Controlling your heart rate and heartbeat

There are three potential treatments your doctor may carry out for the symptoms of AF to try to restore your heart to a normal rhythm:

1) Prescribe medication –  this will aim to control the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat.

2) Cardio-version – this is a treatment where electrical signals are sent to your heart through electrodes placed on the chest.

3) Ablation – this treatment uses heat or freezing on the area of your heart that’s causing the abnormal heart rhythm

How do you prevent AF?

The cause of AF is not fully understood but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing AF. For example certain health conditions including heart failure, high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or thyroid disorders can increase you risk. Also if you have a family history of AF and as you get older you may be more likely to develop AF.

While your risk of developing AF increases with the above mentioned factors, many people develop AF for no explainable reason.

However there are lifestyle changes that can be made to help prevent AF and these include the following:

  • Moderate your alcohol intake
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Keep physically active
  • Watch your weight
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Get enough sleep

You can find our more on how to make healthy lifestyle changes on our How to Keep Healthy page.

What support we offer

If you would like further support in managing your AF please contact us about our ‘Taking Control’ Self Management Programme. Taking Control aims to give people the skills and confidence they need to better manage their long term health condition.

Find out more about how our self-management programme can help you take control of your AF condition.