Freda first noticed symptoms lying in bed at night. She had to visit her GP a number of times before she was referred to a cardiologist. Her AF symptoms got worse after a long chest infection. Freda takes aspirin, plus a statin for high cholesterol.
Freda noticed that she was having palpitations when she was lying in bed at night. She saw her GP four times, and he told her that everyone gets palpitations at times – she found it frustrating that he did not take her symptoms seriously. She then saw another GP who conducted some blood and urine tests, to rule out any underlying problems. She was then referred to a cardiologist and wore a 24 hour heart rate monitor, but her heart was not in AF at that time. She was prescribed 75mg of aspirin daily. Her palpitations usually lasted a few minutes but could last up to one hour, which Freda found tiring, and they could interfere with her daily life. Looking back, when she was younger Freda remembers her mother having palpitations and feeling dizzy. Freda had a chest infection for six months, and noticed that the nature of her palpitations changed, so that they happened in the daytime too, plus she felt light-headed. She also noticed that occasionally her heart rate could get as low as 30 beats per minute. Once when she had an episode she went to the hospital, but nothing showed up in tests and she was sent home.
Freda kept a food diary for a year, to see if any foods triggered her AF. She could not notice any patterns, but did notice that tiredness and a lack of sleep can trigger an episode of AF. However, sometimes after an episode she cannot sleep even though she is tired. She says that she has never had an AF episode while on holiday. Freda jogs once a week and walks daily, and sometimes finds that she gets palpitations as she starts off, but these pass. She carries a note with her saying that she has AF and takes aspirin, plus with her husband’s contact details on, in case she ever becomes unwell while she is out on her own. She says that she experiences AF on a daily basis, to varying degrees. She feels that it happens mostly when her mind is blank and she is not involved in doing anything. Freda also takes a statin for cholesterol. She tried simvastatin and atorvastatin, but these gave her acne. She now takes rosuvastatin, and wonders whether this medication affects her AF, as she is aware that statins can affect muscles. She asked a consultant but he dismissed that there could be a link. She also asked her cardiologist whether her AF would get worse in time, but says that she did not receive a definite answer. Freda was been discharged from the cardiologist, but was unhappy with this and wanted her condition to be monitored. She feels that the routine cardiologist dismissed her condition and kept her on aspirin, when perhaps other options could have been explored. On her request, she was referred to an AF specialist at her local hospital, and has found this to be a defining moment.; She says that the AF specialist has explained her condition and prognosis in detail, and given her a 48 hour monitor and echo-cardiograph.
Freda has joined the Atrial Fibrillation Association and finds it useful to read about other people’s experiences of AF, and read the information leaflets that are provided. She also looks up information online, and reads forum posts, but does not post herself. She believes that patients should research their conditions themselves, so that they are informed when they are making decisions about their care. She says that she prefers not to take too many medications due to side effects.
Freda is pleased with the care she has received. She feels it is important for doctors to put patients at ease. She admits to sometimes not asking some of the questions she has, because she feels restrained during the short appointment and not able to ask silly; questions. She thinks that people are not aware enough of AF and that awareness should be raised. She says that it is the stroke risk which is more damaging than the symptoms, although these can also be unpleasant. Freda urges people with AF to consider if anything in their lifestyle could be triggering their AF.
Interview held 27.1.12