UK study shows lack of awareness over signs of arrhythmia

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Fewer than half of UK citizens are aware of the link between arrhythmia and stroke, while around one in five people with a personal or familial risk of heart disease were unaware of how to check their pulse to detect atrial fibrillation (AF). This is according to a study carried out in the build-up to the UK’s National Heart Month, conducted on behalf of Bristol Myers Squibb, and involving around 2,000 members of the public. 

AF is the most common arrhythmia, prevalent in ~3% of the UK’s population. AF increases the risk of stroke by five times and is associated with heart failure. Early detection and management is likely to improve outcomes for patients, but detection is challenging because some people with AF may experience minimal or no symptoms at all. As a result, as many as 300,000 people are living with undiagnosed AF in the UK. 

The study, conducted in November 2021, involved volunteers aged 16 to 75. Only half (53%) of respondents confirmed that they are aware irregular heart rhythm can lead to stroke. The data also shows that of those with a personal or family history of a heart condition, only 13% actively make appointments to attend heart health screenings to detect any heart abnormalities at an early stage. Further results revealed that 30% of people with either a personal or family history of a previous heart condition do not recognise symptoms of arrhythmia, and an additional 35% do not feel that they know enough about arrhythmia to help actively reduce their risk of developing the condition.  

“Atrial fibrillation is common especially in the older population who are often living with other heart conditions such as heart failure and high blood pressure,” said Trudie Lobban, founder & trustee of Arrhythmia Alliance. “Most commonly, AF is diagnosed during a doctors appointment, however, in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a 30% drop in attendance to the GP surgery was observed in England. If we can counter the number of potentially missed diagnoses during the pandemic by equipping the general public with the correct knowledge to monitor their heart health and importantly their heart rhythm, we can help prevent serious cardiovascular complications arise, such as AF-related stroke.”  

The study showed that a higher proportion of men (13%) have a personal history of a heart condition compared to women (9%). The most common symptom of AF is heart palpitations, the feeling of heart pounding, fluttering or an irregular heart rhythm. Other symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath, feeling faint or lightheaded, or chest pain. 

“For more than 60 years, we have been committed to addressing the needs of patients with serious cardiovascular conditions, including those with atrial fibrillation,” said Belinda Sandler, associate director, medical lead, BMS Cardiovascular UK & Ireland. “We urge people with a personal or family history of a heart condition to regularly check their pulse or, if unsure how, to speak to their GP. If more people actively check their pulse, this can aid early diagnosis and appropriate management of the condition to prevent stroke.” 


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