Checking the dangers of uneven heartbeats
Photo above: Checking your own pulse can easily be done at your own convenience. While it cannot tell you conclusively whether you have AF or not, it will prove invaluable as a simple screening test to pre-alert you. A trial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of irregular heartbeat, or cardiac arrhythmia.
It occurs as a result of a glitch in the heart's electrical "wiring".
The electrical impulses that control the pumping motion of the heart are out of sync.
Instead of rhythmically relaxing and contracting, the heart quivers as it works to pump blood, and as a result, the heart's job is not carried out efficiently.
This leads to blood pooling in the heart's chambers, which often results in blood clots forming.
Your chances of a stroke are increased by as much as five times, and if that isn't bad enough, you also face the risk of heart failure.
Patients with AF represent a large population who are at high risk of stroke, and in particular, severe stroke.
There are three types of AF, and it can change from one type to another over time.
Often, the symptoms associated with AF can be vague or non-specific, and sometimes, there are no symptoms at all.
This makes it difficult to identify early, and the easiest way to identify AF is the detection of an irregular pulse.
There may be times when AF presents with obvious symptoms such as:
Palpitation - the sudden feeling that the heart is pounding, fluttering, or racing.
Discomfort in the chest area - feelings of pain, pressure, or discomfort.
Shortness of breath - difficulty in breathing while going about your normal routine.
Feeling weak - feeling tired or lacking the energy to go about your normal routine.
Dizziness - sudden feelings of light-headedness, or feeling very faint.
It is important to keep in mind that you may not experience any of the symptoms listed above, as many patients with AF do not have obvious symptoms.
Often, AF is undetected until patients see a doctor for other complications like ischaemic stroke, blood clots in the leg, or heart failure.
You can use a simple DIY pulse test method to check your pulse rate, which lets you know how fast your heart beats.
To do the DIY pulse test, hold one hand out with your palm upwards.
Place the middle and index fingers of your other hand on the wrist, at the point just under the thumb.
This is the point where your radial artery is located.
Start counting the number of pulses (beats) that occur in one minute.
A normal heart beat should be strong and regular, with a pulse rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
If you find that you have an irregular pulse, or if it is too fast (more than 100 beats in a minute), then it would be best to see a doctor to confirm whether you have AF.
You can also use arteries located in the crook of your elbow (brachial artery) or at the side of your throat (carotid artery) for this purpose.
The use of this method is much more reliable as a screening method to determine whether or not you might have AF than going for an ECG test for it; this is simply because AF can, and often does, happen intermittently, thus the ECG test may show nothing wrong.
Doing a DIY pulse test will only cost you a few minutes of your time, and can easily be done at your own convenience.
While it cannot tell you conclusively whether you have AF or not, it will prove invaluable as a simple screening test to pre-alert you.
The bottom-line is - having AF is not only a possibility, it is a deadly one!
Try taking steps to minimise your chances of developing AF by adopting the same healthy habits that protect against heart disease.
They include having a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, controlling your blood pressure, avoiding smoking, and limiting your caffeine intake.
If you have AF, you should see a cardiologist to prevent the complications of thromboembolic stroke and heart failure.
Current advances in medicine can revert AF back to a normal sinus rhythm.
If your AF cannot be reverted, then your heart rate can still be controlled to relieve the symptoms of palpitations.
Blood thinners can reduce the possibility of stroke. New oral anticoagulants such as dabigatran, rivaroxaban and apioxaban can be used.