“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,” commented Fidelma Carter, Public Health Director for NICHS. Polling carried out by Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke revealed that 70% of people did not know what atrial fibrillation was.
Fidelma continued, “Even more worryingly very, very few people are aware of the fact that having AF increases the risk of having a stroke by 5 times. We polled over 1000 people but actually only about 30 were aware that AF increases the risk of stroke so dramatically. This is something we are working to change. ”
Over 37,000 people have already diagnosed and, according to Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke, there could be as many as 50,000 people with the condition in Northern Ireland. 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 pointed 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.”
Ms Carter also revealed that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke had recently introduced a test for Atrial Fibrillation as part of its health checks.
“We carry out thousands of health checks every year – both for companies and with the general public. To date these tests have focused on blood pressure and cholesterol but we are delighted to be the first charity in Northern Ireland to offer a test for atrial fibrillation.
“Across Northern Ireland we need to get to a situation where everyone is aware of the risk that AF poses and their personal AF situation. ”
Fidelma Carter - NICHS - DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH