Leading local health charity, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS), are using Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week (15th-21st November) to call on the public to educate themselves about the most common form of irregular heart rhythm, Atrial Fibrillation, and the increased risk of stroke associated with this condition.
Over 40,000 people here are living with Atrial Fibrillation and according to Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, a further 10,000 may be undiagnosed. Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health for NICHS explains; “Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. It is important that the public both understand the symptoms and, if they are diagnosed, they ensure that they are on appropriate treatment in order to reduce their risk of stroke.”
A poll carried out by Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke previously revealed that 70% of people in Northern Ireland did not know what Atrial Fibrillation was. Fidelma continues; “Even more worryingly, very few people were aware of the fact that having AF can increase their risk of having a stroke by 5 times, if untreated. We previously surveyed over 1000 people and only 3% were aware that AF increases the risk of stroke so dramatically. So, we are always trying to increase AF awareness, detection and treatment to prevent avoidable strokes and improve lives.”
The prevalence of AF roughly doubles with each advancing decade of age. As the number of people aged 65 and over in Northern Ireland is expected to increase by 25% by 2026, the incidence of AF is therefore likely to increase markedly with a proportionate impact on stroke risk.
With this is mind, Fidelma points out; “Anyone who is experiencing symptoms such as heart palpitations, tiredness and being less able to exercise, breathlessness, feeling faint or lightheaded or experiencing chest pain should make an appointment to see their GP. Having AF dramatically increases your risk of stroke, so it is very important that those who have been diagnosed are on appropriate treatment and have been advised by their doctor on the importance of the medication. Although AF is a serious condition, you can live a long and healthy life with the right treatment plan in place.”
Fidelma also highlighted that Atrial Fibrillation testing is included in NICHS’s health checks service, Well Check. This is a comprehensive cardiovascular health check that can detect the early warning signs and hidden risk factors associated with avoidable chest, heart and stroke illnesses.
“Prior to COVID we carried out thousands of Well Checks every year, both for companies and with the general public and are delighted to have re-started that work. Previously this service focused on blood pressure and cholesterol but as the prevalence of AF became clear we added this to our test portfolio. NICHS is the only charity in Northern Ireland to offer this simple, but vital, 30 second finger touch test for Atrial Fibrillation. Our aim is to get to a situation where everyone in Northern Ireland is aware of the risk that AF poses and their personal AF situation with vital treatment in place for them too.”
Well Checks are available every Friday at NICHS Head Office in Belfast. To find out more or to book a Well Check, visit https://nichs.org.uk/our-support-services/prevention-services/get-a-health-check