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Recognising the signs of an abnormal heart rhythm (and why you shouldn't ignore them!)

Did you know that approximately 3 million people in the UK have an abnormal heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmia?

This condition can cause your heartbeat to become irregular and faster than

usual, which increases the risk of strokes. Surprisingly, many individuals with arrhythmia are not even aware they have it.



The most common type of arrhythmia is called atrial fibrillation (AF), and it can lead to an irregular and often fast heartbeat, significantly raising the risk of a stroke. The good news is that AF can be diagnosed and treated. However, it's concerning to learn that there are an estimated 270,000 people in the UK who are unaware they have this condition, according to the British Heart


Now, it's important to note that AF is more common in older individuals. In fact, it can affect up to 10% of people in their 70s and nearly 29% of those in their 80s.


Keep in mind that arrhythmias can have various causes, including thyroid disorders, structural abnormalities within the heart, infections, and sleep apnoea. Factors like stress, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, diet pills, and certain medications can also trigger arrhythmias. In most cases, there is an underlying physical reason

behind these irregular heart rhythms.



So, what are the warning signs you should look out for?

  • Palpitations (a thumping or fluttering sensation in your heart/chest), dizzy spells and feeling faint, breathlessness, chest discomfort, and feeling overly tired. It's important to remember that experiencing these symptoms doesn't automatically mean you have a heart problem. However, it is crucial to have any symptoms checked out by a medical professional, as they could be indicative of an underlying condition.

  • Measuring your heart rhythm can be done in various ways, both clinically and at home. One simple method is to check your pulse. By feeling your pulse, you can get an idea of your heart rhythm - is it irregular, too fast, or too slow? Taking just 30 seconds to measure your pulse can potentially save your life. All you need is a watch with a second hand or a timer on your phone. Follow these steps:

  1. Hold out your left or right hand with your palm facing up and elbow slightly bent.

  2. Place your index and middle fingers of your other hand on your wrist near the base of your thumb, between the bone and stringy thumb tendon, to find your pulse.

  3. Once you've located your pulse, maintain firm pressure and count the beats for 30 seconds.

  4. Multiply the count by two to get your heart rate in beats per minute, unless your heart rhythm is irregular, in which case you should count for a full minute without multiplying.

It's essential to take arrhythmias seriously, as they can lead to severe health problems.


Complications such as strokes, heart failure, and heart attacks can arise from untreated heart arrhythmia. Particularly, AF is associated with an increased risk of blood clots, which highlights the importance of recognising the warning signs. If a blood clot travels from the heart to the brain, it can cause a stroke. Therefore, it's crucial to not delay seeking advice and heart health assessment with a

specialist.


Knowing when to seek help is vital.


If you have a history of heart problems, or if you're increasingly concerned about palpitations, it's advisable to speak with a medical expert. Additionally, individuals

with a family history of arrhythmia or sudden cardiac death should also get checked out. It's important to consult a specialist or your doctor if your heart palpitations persist or worsen over time.



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