A campaign by Arrhythmia Alliance to DETECT atrial fibrillation (AF)—the most common type of arrhythmia—found that 6% of people aged 65 or older attending a COVID-19 vaccination centre had “possible AF”. The result supports previous findings that the incidence of AF is higher among people aged 65 or older than it is in the general population and that a simple pulse check can identify previously undetected AF.
Arrhythmia Alliance, supported by its sister charity AF Association, launched an opportunistic screening programme to DETECT AF in people aged 65 or older attending a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in parts of the UK. The charity wrote a protocol that outlined how to perform a pulse check in a COVID-19 safe manner (such as using a single-lead mobile ECG, which could be sanitised between uses, rather than manually taking someone’s pulse) and in a way that did not delay the vaccination process.
In the pilot scheme, at a GP surgery in Suffolk, 317 people were screened using a single-lead mobile ECG in one day. Of these, 26 were found to have possible AF with the majority (20) having not been previously diagnosed with the condition. A subsequent screening, at a medical centre in London, found that 7 of 160 people screened (in one day) had possible AF. Overall, this means that 6% (27) of all those screened (477) had previously undetected possible AF.
Arrhythmia Alliance has created an online resource hub for healthcare professionals working at vaccine clinics to use to DETECT AF. This included posters, referral letters, and factsheets that could be downloaded and printed off free of charge. Additionally, the charity provided links to “Know Your Pulse” videos, which explained how to perform a simple pulse check and how this can help to DETECT AF, that could be played at vaccine centres.
Trudie Lobban MBE, founder & CEO of Arrhythmia Alliance, says seizing the opportunity to promote the “Know Your Pulse to Know Your Heart Rhythm—it Could Save Your Life” campaign at COVID-19 vaccine centres “seemed the obvious thing to do”.
She explains: “It did not delay or hinder the roll out of the vitally important vaccine and, yet at the same time, we may have potentially saved someone from a fatal AF-related stroke. The success of the scheme has shown how a simple pulse check can easily be performed in any setting, healthcare, or non-healthcare, and is a great way to identify people who may have AF. Going forward, as restrictions lift, we encourage all healthcare professionals to explore ways that they can opportunistically DETECT AF and ensure their patients understand the importance of knowing their pulse,” Lobban adds.