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Poor awareness of AF continues to put over 65s at risk of strokeCreated by Verity in Being You, Health and fitness
Around two thirds of people (67%) aged 65 or over are unable to recognise atrial fibrillation, order a form of irregular heartbeat, as a warning sign of stroke, according to a survey published by The Stroke Association to mark World Stroke Day (29 October).
Approximately 750,000 people in the UK are affected by atrial fibrillation (AF), one of the most common heart rhythm disturbances, which can be easily diagnosed through a pulse check. The risk of developing the condition increases significantly in older people, yet in the survey, only one-third (33%) of people over 65 recognised that AF could lead to a stroke. The most common symptom of AF is a fast and irregular heartbeat, usually over 140 beats a minute. However, other symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, light headedness, fainting or fatigue.
Joe Korner, Director of Communications at The Stroke Association says: “Many people have atrial fibrillation but are completely unaware, leaving them undiagnosed and at risk of having a stroke. This is extremely worrying as strokes resulting from AF tend to be more severe. Few people know what AF is and even fewer are aware that it is a risk factor for stroke and this must change.
“Getting your pulse checked by your GP is the vital first step, especially if you are over the age of 55. Treatments are available to treat AF and to reduce the risk of stroke, and we urge people to take this simple first step.”
Brian (67) from Cumbria was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 2007. He had been feeling ill for a while and had been suffering from breathlessness, however, it wasn’t until his wife, Jean, one day noticed that his lips had gone blue that they realised something was seriously wrong and Brian was taken to A&E.
At hospital Brian was told that he was suffering from atrial fibrillation and he was put on warfarin. Brian explains; “Although I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation I had no idea I could be at risk of having a stroke. I was taken off warfarin after a year of being on it and then went on to have a stroke a few months later. It came as a complete shock.
“Much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the link between AF and stroke and I would strongly urge everyone over the age of 55 to visit their GP to have their pulse checked as a stroke can often be prevented.”
Brian has been left paralysed down his right side as a result of his stroke and has communication difficulties. Unfortunately, he has been unable to return to his part time job. However, he remains incredibly positive about life and has started volunteering at his local Age UK shop.
ITV Daybreak’s Dr Hilary Jones says; “We know that atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for stroke. The condition causes your heart to beat irregularly and less efficiently meaning that blood clots are more likely to form which could cause a stroke if they travel to the brain. However, AF can be quickly and easily diagnosed and treatment options are available to reduce your risk of stroke. It is therefore very important for anyone concerned about their heartbeat to visit their GP for a pulse check.”
The Stroke Association’s ‘Ask First to prevent a stroke later’ campaign aims to increase awareness of the link between AF and stroke and encourages members of the public to ask their GP about their risk of developing AF. To find out more about atrial fibrillation and the Ask First campaign visit: www.stroke.org.uk/askfirst
By The Stroke Association