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Atrial fibrillation

Increasing public awareness about atrial fibrillation

Making people more aware of the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AF) can help with early diagnosis and treatment, thus reducing the risk of stroke. We asked people whether they thought there should be more public awareness of AF and how this could be achieved.
 

Dr Tim Holt believes there should be a balance between making people aware of AF without increasing anxiety.

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Sex: Male
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Well, I think it’s important that people who are at raised risk of AF particularly, older people as they get older, don’t ignore it if they think that their heart rate is irregular. We have to also be careful that we don’t overdo it in the other direction and raise so much anxiety that everybody, you know, because everybody, at some stage in their lives could probably detect an extra beat or a feeling of thumping in the chest and we need to be careful that we don’t over investigate people. But, at the same time, it’s very important, in people who do have atrial fibrillation, that we detect it early. So it’s getting the balance right through raising public awareness of the need to seek advice if they have symptoms. And it’s also a good idea for doctors and nurses, who are checking people’s blood pressures or examining them, to just check that the heart rate is regular and, if it isn’t, to follow it up with an ECG.
People we talked to described a lack of awareness of atrial fibrillation (AF) in the community. As Elisabeth X observed, ‘most people don’t know anything about it unless they have it or a relation who has’. Although some felt there was no reason to increase awareness, others disagreed, believing that the public should be made more aware of AF as early detection can prevent strokes. Eileen felt the reluctance to display information about AF in doctors’ surgeries was short-sighted: ‘stroke is the biggest problem and there are a lot of people who don’t know they’ve got it. I think it should be as aware as heart attacks and probably cancer’. Glyn suggested a media campaign to raise awareness of AF which he believes is ‘non-existent’ but despite writing to radio stations ‘they don’t seem to be interested’.
 

Paul thinks many people may have AF without being aware of it because of the lack of advertising and posters in doctors’ surgeries.

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 55
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There’s millions, I think probably there’s probably hundreds of thousands of people, thousands of people at least out there that will suffer from this condition and not even be aware of it because a) they don’t take their blood pressure they don’t take their pulse regularly. They perhaps don’t go and see their GP that regular unless there’s, you know, something else, got a condition and so I feel that, you know, it is it is a condition that’s not maybe, people aren’t aware of as much I think and it’s not published much either. I mean if you ask, probably anybody in the street what AF is, they’d probably, oh, they wouldn’t have a clue. 

You could put up posters in doctors’ surgeries, that sort of thing, which I’ve never seen one for AF I know. I mean I know I have received some from the Arrhythmia Alliance and they’ve sent me a few and I’ve put them up at my works. So from that perspective, you know, a bit of advertising and self-awareness I think, but from I think it’s very difficult and yet I can’t see it being advertised on the TV. I suppose again, its cost, its costing money again to put sort of NHS type bulletins out.
 

Freda believes that public education is the key to raising awareness of AF.

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 68
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It’s a public awareness, public education and public awareness. …It’s that the symptom is not the symptom of irregular heartbeat isn’t the problem. That the irregular heartbeat that may cause you inside, that is the problem isn’t it? That’s the core message isn’t it? That has to be sent out. It can only be public education, and I think five a day, five veg and fruit a day, it’s you know, it’s a… you see that ubiquitous and then it’s in everybody’s head I think. I don’t know whether the government would like to do a similar things, check your pulse, you know, and amazingly some people don’t know how to make, how to take your pulse do they? Some people don’t know where to go for, that’s what I’ve found.
Alongside increased media coverage, people we spoke to suggested other ways to promote awareness of AF, including leaflets in GP surgeries (some people talked of giving their GP posters which were never displayed); information in health magazines, well woman or man clinics; educational programmes in schools which teach children how to take their pulse; articles in newspapers; possible incorporation in TV soaps; and more pulse checking by GPs and through roadshows. Chris X gave an account of his experience of misdiagnosis of AF to a parliamentary group. Most felt that a widespread campaign was unnecessary, however.
 

Keith would like to see people better informed about AF symptoms so that they go to their GP for treatment or referral to a consultant.

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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I suppose then given my experience, one good thing would be to inform people a little better about AF because I’m an educated person. I knew about AF really and I still didn’t do anything about it, which in retrospect is foolish isn’t it. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t have gone to the doctors but I suppose one thing would be education of people that this is what happens, this is what you should do when you get an irregular heartbeat, go to the doctor and the doctor will be able to push you in the right direction either to a consultant or give suitable drugs or whatever help is needed. 
 

While praising the introduction of pulse checking days, Ginny added a note of caution.

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 45
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Well, I know the Atrial Fibrillation Association is having a lot of pulse checking days. They did last year and it’s having another one this year. And I think that’s a I think that’s a very good idea but then I dread to think that, you know, we might end up swamping the NHS with a lot of people who think they’ve got something and they perhaps haven’t, you know. You can scare people.

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