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Irregular heartbeat raises stroke risk

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Thousands of Australians are unaware that they suffer a condition that substantially increases their risk of having a stroke.

The National Stroke Foundation has warned that more than 400,000 Australians living with atrial fibrillation (AF) – a condition that involves an irregular heartbeat – are up to five times more likely to have a stroke.

To help increase understanding of the danger posed by AF, and to provide some reassurance to sufferers, the Foundation has developed a free booklet for those with AF and their families.

AF affects the heart, making it beat faster and out of rhythm. Those with the condition may experience a ‘pounding’ or ‘fluttering’ heartbeat known as heart palpitations, while some may experience symptoms such as an irregular pulse, dizziness, tiredness, shortness of breath or chest pain, or may feel faint or light headed.

The new patient resource, Living with atrial fibrillation, explains in simple and easily understood terms what AF is and how it affects patients’ lives. It includes personal stories of patients, among them active and regular gym user Barry Prater, who was diagnosed with non-valvular atrial fibrillation in 2012. Less than a year later he suffered a stroke.

“I had no idea what a normal heart rate was,” Barry warns. “I thought my low heart rate was simply a sign of being fit. After exercise, however, it would sky rocket. My body was trying to tell me something. After my diagnosis, I struggled to find information about AF written by patients.”

National Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dr Erin Lalor said the new booklet will help patients and their families to understand the effects of AF, particularly the risk of stroke, which can be reduced if the condition is carefully managed.

“People with AF who don’t know a lot about it, those who have experienced AF-type symptoms or may be at risk, should speak to their doctor and find out more. Being diagnosed with AF can be a frightening experience. However, patients report a significantly improved quality of life when their AF is appropriately managed,” Dr Lalor said.

The Living with atrial fibrillation booklet is available from www.morethanmedication.com.au or from the National Stroke Foundation on 1800 STROKE (1800 787 653) or www.strokefoundation.com.au

Odette Visser