During Heart Rhythm Week, 6-12 June, the charity Arrhythmia Alliance is promoting awareness of heart rhythm disorders. This year, people are being encouraged to take the pulse check challenge to help them become more aware of their pulse and their heart rhythm, so that they can understand what is normal and when they should seek advice from their doctor.
In 2004, the charity successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a new chapter on Arrhythmias and Sudden Cardiac Death in the National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease. This defined the standards of care and the week has been recognised across the world since then to raise awareness of irregular heart rhythms.
Cardiac arrhythmia is the medical term for an irregular heartbeat or abnormal heart rhythm. Over two million people in the UK experience arrhythmias or heart rhythm problems a year and they are Britain’s biggest killer. Arrhythmias cause around 75,000 sudden cardiac deaths each year in the UK – more than 200 every day. They can affect anyone, at any age.
The heart’s rhythm is controlled by electrical signals and an arrhythmia is an abnormality of the heart's rhythm. There are three main types of arrhythmia:
Currently, there is no national programme of pulse checks or heart rhythm screening, although it is thought that, if pulse checks were routine within the NHS, thousands of lives could be saved - and thousands of debilitating strokes prevented - every year.
The message from the Arrhythmia Alliance is that anything between 60 to 100 beats a minute (bpm) is considered normal but, understandably, some people may have pulse rates over 100bpm and others less than 60bpm. A person’s pulse can vary throughout the day and various factors, such as age, stress, level of fitness and caffeine, will make the heart rate slower or faster.
Although some arrhythmias have no symptoms, the common signs to look out for, as well as monitoring your pulse, are dizziness, fatigue, premature beats, palpitations or skipped beats, light-headedness and fainting.
Arrhythmia Alliance recommends that people see their doctor if they have a persistent heart rate above 120 bpm or below 40 bpm. The charity also has a very helpful heart rhythm checklist on its website to help people gather the information they need to discuss their symptoms with their doctors.
It is estimated that nearly 100,000 people in the UK die each year as a result of a treatable but undetected heart rhythm disorder and the charity says that this highlights the vital importance of effective diagnosis.
Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “As the above demonstrates, it is important that people take the time to understand their pulse and heart rhythm so that they know what to look out for and when to see their GP. If awareness of such disorders can be raised, more people will hopefully secure an early diagnosis and receive the necessary treatment.”