Check your pulse to prevent a stroke

By June Shannon Stroke News   |   13th Nov 2018

People aged 50 and over urged to check their pulse to help prevent stroke

People with untreated atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, are five times more likely to have a stroke however, a simple pulse check can help prevent this.

Atrial fibrillation is the name for a particular type of irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. With atrial fibrillation your heart beats in an irregular manner which can lead to a range of symptoms and potential complications, including stroke, permanent heart damage and heart failure. People with atrial fibrillation are also more likely to have a more severe or disabling stroke.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat and one in four people over the age of 50 are at risk of developing it.

This was the message from the Irish Heart Foundation as it launched its new campaign ‘Prevent a Stroke: Feel the Pulse, today (Tuesday 13 November).

The message is a simple yet important one; all you have to do to feel the pulse is remember 2x2x2 – using two fingers on your wrist, check your pulse twice a day for two weeks and take note of the results. A normal resting pulse is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, and the beats are regular.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat and one in four people over the age of 50 are at risk of developing it.

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If your pulse feels irregular, you could have atrial fibrillation.

If you have atrial fibrillation and are not treated, you are five times more likely to have a stroke.

The symptoms of atrial fibrillation can include tiredness, dizziness, palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath, but very often a person living with the condition will experience no symptoms at all. This is why it is crucial for everyone aged over 50 to regularly check their pulse for irregularities to ensure an early diagnosis.

In a recent survey conducted by the Irish Heart Foundation, 69 per cent of people aged 50 or over said they did not know a regular pulse check could detect atrial fibrillation – making this call to action to incorporate pulse checks in to our daily routine even more critical.

The good news is that with early diagnosis, atrial fibrillation is treatable.

Remember 2x2x2 - using two fingers on your wrist, check your pulse twice a day for two weeks and take note of the results.

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Rebecca Redmond, from Clonskeagh in Dublin, was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation two years ago at the age of 44.

Speaking at today’s launch, Rebecca said: “Looking back now, I had all the classic symptoms of atrial fibrillation – I just didn’t know it. I had very severe bouts of leg swelling, fatigue, and shortness of breath. I tried to explain it away, as maybe being a little unfit, but deep down I knew something was wrong. After a couple of doctor and A&E visits, I was eventually diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. It came as such a shock to me and my family – surely, I was too young for something like this?

“I am on the journey now, and I really do everything I can to look after myself. I keep track of my pulse, I eat healthily, I work out, and I try not to get stressed as that can really affect me. What people don’t understand is how atrial fibrillation detrimentally affects your energy levels – I don’t have that ‘energy reserve’ anymore, which is definitely a challenge with three boys under the age of 15. For me, it’s all about working around my atrial fibrillation and not letting it take over – I advise anyone with atrial fibrillation to look after themselves and keep a diary so you know what your triggers are. This campaign is so important, it’s really simple to check your pulse every day, and it’s something we all should incorporate in to our daily routine.”

"What people don’t understand is how atrial fibrillation detrimentally affects your energy levels – I don’t have that ‘energy reserve’ anymore, which is definitely a challenge with three boys under the age of 15,"

Rebecca Redmond, Clonskeagh in Dublin, diagnosed with atrial fibrillation at the age of 44.

It is really simple to check your pulse – just remember 2x2x2:

• Sitting in a chair, rest your arm, palm facing upwards, on the arm of the chair or on a table.
• Put two fingers – your middle finger and index finger – on your wrist at the base of your thumb.
• Press down gently until you feel your pulse.
• Use a watch, clock or phone to time 30 seconds. Count the number of beats you feel in 30 seconds and then multiply the result by two. This is the number of beats per minute.
• A normal resting pulse is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, and the beats are regular.
• Do this twice a day, for two weeks, and use the Irish Heart Foundation’s Pulse Check card to keep a record.
• Make sure you’re sitting down when you check your pulse and don’t drink caffeine or alcohol or smoke beforehand.

If your pulse feels irregular, very fast or you have difficulty feeling your pulse contact your doctor or call the Irish Heart Foundation’s Heart and Stroke Helpline, Freephone 1800 25 25 50. 

"Although atrial fibrillation is generally not life-threatening, it is a serious condition and can lead to complications – most commonly stroke,"

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation,

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation, said, Our ‘Prevent a Stroke: Feel the Pulse’ campaign aims to empower everyone over 50 to get familiar with their pulse and start making a twice daily pulse check a simple part of your routine. We have created a suite of materials, all available on our website, to help you keep track of your pulse checks and to educate people on atrial fibrillation. Although atrial fibrillation is generally not life-threatening, it is a serious condition and can lead to complications – most commonly stroke. By knowing about its possible complications, you can find out how to lower your chances of them happening to you.”

For more information see our ‘Prevent a Stroke: Feel the Pulse’ campaign page or call our Heart and Stroke Helpline, Freephone 1800 25 25 50. This campaign is supported by Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

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