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World Heart Rhythm Week: identifying arrhythmias

Posted: 08/06/2021

This week (7 to 13 June 2021) is World Heart Rhythm Week, which is promoted by health charity Arrhythmia Alliance. The mission of the charity is to raise awareness of arrhythmias, and to improve the diagnosis, treatment and quality of life for those affected by arrhythmias. This annual event is held to raise awareness of arrhythmias both amongst the medical profession and the general public.

An arrhythmia is an abnormality of the heart’s rhythm, which means it is beating either too slowly, too quickly or irregularly. Arrhythmias are experienced by more than two million people a year in the UK, though most people with an abnormal heart rhythm can lead a normal life if it is properly diagnosed and treated.

There are a number of different types of arrhythmia, but the most common is Atrial Fibrillation or AF (affecting around one million people in the UK). This causes the heart rate to be irregular and faster than normal. It can give rise to problems including dizziness, shortness of breath, tiredness and noticeable heart palpitations where the heart feels like it is pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly for a few seconds or, in some cases, a few minutes.

AF can affect adults of any age, but it more frequently presents in older people (about seven in 100 people aged over 65), is more common in men than women and is more likely to occur in people with other cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis or a heart valve issue. AF is a common cause of stroke, so if an individual is experiencing symptoms it is important that these are checked with a doctor and, if the individual is diagnosed with AF, for this to be treated.

'Know Your Pulse' campaign

The ‘Know Your Pulse’ campaign run by Arrhythmia Alliance promotes the need for individuals to be aware of their own heart rate and to conduct routine manual pulse checks. The charity’s view is that with routine pulse checks, thousands of lives could be saved every year through the prevention of AF-related stroke. Guidance on how to measure heart rates by feeling the pulse in the neck or wrist can be found on the websites for Arrhythmia Alliance and the NHS.

A normal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats per minute when resting. The NHS advises that an appointment should be made to see a GP if:

  • there is a sudden change in heartbeat; or
  • if the heart rate is consistently lower than 60 or above 100 (particularly if the person is experiencing other symptoms of atrial fibrillation, such as dizziness and shortness of breath).

Importantly, the NHS also advises anyone who has chest pain to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Elizabeth Maloney, associate in the Penningtons Manches Cooper clinical negligence team, comments: “World Heart Rhythm Week is a great way to raise awareness of arrhythmias amongst professionals and the public alike. The beauty of the ‘Know Your Pulse’ campaign is that it equips people with a very simple technique that can save lives by helping to identify arrhythmias.”

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