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Charity’s warning 10,000 people living with undetected heart condition which increases stroke risk

22 Nov 2022
AF Test

Global Atrial Fibrillation Aware Week is currently taking place (21st-27th November) and Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS) is using the week to call on the public to educate themselves about Atrial Fibrillation, which is the most common form of irregular heart rhythm, and the increased risk of stroke associated with this condition.

Over 39,000 people here are living with Atrial Fibrillation and a further 10,000 may be undiagnosed¹ ² according to the charity. Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS explains; “Atrial Fibrillation, or AF, is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. AF can also increase a person’s stroke risk by up to five times if untreated and the stroke is more likely to be severe.”

“As a result of an irregular beat, the heart may not empty its chambers of blood at each beat, increasing the risk of a clot forming in the blood left behind which can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke. It is therefore important that the public both understand the symptoms of AF and, if they are diagnosed, they ensure that they are on appropriate treatment.”


Mark from Belfast knows all about the importance of being AF aware after being diagnosed with the condition in September last year. Mark works in a Belfast hostel which NICHS support through their Health and Homeless Programme, funded by the Department of Health, Strategic Planning and Performance Group. Mark explains; “NICHS visited my workplace to carry out health checks. I had recently been feeling more tired than usual and a bit rundown, so I thought I’d take up the opportunity to have a check. The AF test showed I had an irregular heart rate and the NICHS team advised me to contact my GP as soon as possible.”

“I spoke with my GP the next day but when they reviewed my results they advised I needed to go straight to hospital. I was retested at hospital and AF showed again so I was admitted for most of that day, being put on a drip and the necessary medication.”

“After being discharged from hospital I was put on a waiting list for an AF related procedure which was carried out in December last year. I now continue to take medication for the condition.”

Mark continues; “Without that health check from NICHS my AF might not have been detected until it was too late and I had suffered a stroke and I am thankful it didn’t get to that stage.”

“I wasn’t expecting to be diagnosed with AF that day, it came completely out of the blue and was a shock. Anyone could be affected by AF and I want to raise awareness of the condition- I didn’t know about it until my diagnosis.”

“I am glad I found out about my AF when I did, and I was able to seek help and treatment. The test was quick and easy but did a lot of good. I was treated within two months and have been able to get on with life.”

Fidelma concludes; “We would urge 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 to make an appointment to see their GP. Due to the increased risk of stroke associated with AF it is vital that those who have been diagnosed are on appropriate treatment. Although AF is a serious condition, Mark is a testament to the possibility of being able to continue to live normally with the right treatment plan in place.”

“Also, the NICHS Health Promotion team will be visiting Cookstown Leisure Centre this Thursday (24th November) from 10am to 5pm as part of our health and wellbeing roadshow and they will be delivering free, pop in AF checks. The AF test is a simple, 30 second finger touch test and we are very glad to have this chance to bring AF testing to the local community.”

For further AF information and to find out more about the support available from Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke visit, For further information about the NICHS Cookstown roadshow, visit