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Stroke Association Urges People To Check Themselves For ‘Silent’ Condition, Atrial Fibrillation

Three in four people don’t know that an irregular heartbeat is a major cause of strokes

Stroke Prevention Day is Thursday 12 January 2023

Stroke Association Urges People To Check Themselves For ‘silent’ Condition, Atrial Fibrillation

The Stroke Association and BBC Morning Live’s Dr Punam Krishan are urging people to check for a ‘silent condition’ which is one of the leading causes of serious strokes, after a survey showed that few are aware of the link.

It is estimated that around 35,000 people in Scotland are living with undiagnosed atrial fibrillation 1 (AF) where the heart beats with an irregular rhythm. When this happens, the heart won’t empty all of the blood out of its chambers with every beat and the leftover blood can form clots which travel to the brain, blocking off blood flow and causing a stroke.

A survey by the charity to mark Stroke Prevention Day on Thursday 12 January revealed that three in four people (75%) did not know that AF is a major cause of stroke 2 .

AF is linked to around one in five strokes 3 – that’s 40 strokes per day and strokes in people with AF are more severe and are more likely to result in death or serious disability.

John Watson, Associate Director for the Stroke Association in Scotland, said: “It’s worrying that so few people know that a little thing like how your heart beats can lead to a massive stroke.

“AF often has no symptoms and a stroke can strike without warning. Don’t let the first sign of your AF be a sudden and life-changing stroke. With early diagnosis and effective management of AF, your risk of a stroke dramatically decreases so it’s vital for people to check it regularly.

“It’s really easy to check your own pulse and our research told us that most people are able to. Feel for your pulse on your wrist or neck to make sure it has a regular beat. If you suspect you have an irregular pulse, contact your GP Practice.” The survey 2 also revealed that:

 Six in ten (67%) said they had never checked themselves for AF

 Almost half (46%) said they had never been checked for AF by a healthcare professional

 More than eight in ten (86%) said they would be likely to seek medical advice if they felt something was wrong with the rhythm of their heartbeat/pulse  62% said they knew someone who had had a stroke

 24% knew someone who had had AF

The charity has a video guide on its website at www.stroke.org.uk/spd23 showing people how they can check their own pulse on their wrist or neck.

Alex Trench had a stroke at the age of 52. Alex ran his own business, a grocer at the time. He describes it as a stressful job. It was a massive stroke leaving Alex unable to sit up, walk or use his arm.

Only two months earlier, Alex had been diagnosed with AF following a check-up with his GP about another health problem. He said:

“I didn’t know anyone with AF nor did I know anyone who had had a stroke, I was only 52! Whilst I wasn’t given a definitive answer as to the cause of my stroke, I do wonder if AF may have played a part. I have since sold my business, eat healthily and watch my weight to reduce the risk of having a stroke. Importantly, I am now on medication to manage my AF. I would urge people of any age to check their pulse regularly to look out for possible AF. Having a stroke is devastating. I know it.

Please do as much as you can to prevent it.”

Although Alex still still relies on a delta frame to walk very short distances and struggles to use his hand, thanks to Alex’ determination and support from others, he has made quite a good recovery.

“I am really pleased to be ‘giving back’ doing voluntary work for the Stroke Association.”

Dr Punam Krishan, a Glasgow GP and presenter on BBC Morning Live, said: “The good news is that if AF is identified it can be managed really easily. If you’ve got AF, you might be given anticoagulant medication to reduce your risk of stroke by making a clot less likely to form, or you might be able to have a one-time electric pulse to get your heart beating regularly.

“The most important thing is to check yourself and contact your GP practice if you think you might have AF. It’s so much better to get your AF sorted before it becomes a problem. Get it checked for your own health and for the sake of your loved ones.” Trudie Lobban MBE, Founder of the AF Association, said:

“The AF Association welcomes Stroke Prevention Day to help detect more people living with AF, yet to be diagnosed. Raising awareness of the importance of pulse checks is key to detecting the irregular heart rhythm and leading to more people being diagnosed and receiving appropriate anticoagulation therapy to reduce their risk of an AF-related stroke.

“It is good to see the Stroke Association encouraging the public to be pulse aware to know their heart rhythm – this can save so many from the devastation that strokes can cause, it can even save lives.”