‘I knew something was wrong’: This simple at-home pulse check can help prevent a stroke
Rebecca Redmond was 44 when she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. While it’s impacted her wellness and energy levels, she’s nonetheless positive about managing her condition. Speaking to us about the Irish Heart Foundation’s Prevent a Stroke: Feel the Pulse campaign, she says a simple, at-home pulse check can help others recognise (and subsequently treat) the illness early.
What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (also known as A-Fib or AF) is a condition whereby your heart beats in a disorganised and irregular way. While some people with the condition will experience no symptoms at all, others will experience tiredness, dizziness, palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
What’s more, people with atrial fibrillation who are not treated are five times more likely to have a stroke. For that reason, early detection is crucial.
“Because I was so young, the heart was the last place they were looking…”
“Looking back now, I had all the classic symptoms of atrial fibrillation – I just didn’t know it,” Rebecca tells IMAGE.ie. “The symptoms built up over time. I had complete exhaustion – not just ‘I feel tired’ – I was really wiped. I had breathlessness; a little bit of dizziness; and I had swelling in both of my legs, which was so painful I went to A&E three times.”
But as a young mum of three with no family history of heart problems, she (and her doctors) never even considered it could be atrial fibrillation. “I knew something was wrong, but it was hard to diagnose,” Rebecca says. “It was scary. Because I was so young and healthy looking, the heart was the last place they were looking.”
Photo by Marc O’Sullivan via Irish Heart Foundation
Living with A-fib
It’s been two years since Rebecca was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and she’s learned ways to keep it under control.
She says there’s a type of medication called Beta Blockers which can help control the rate of your heart; there are also drugs to help control its rhythm; lastly, there are anticoagulants (or blood thinners) which prevent blood from clotting in the heart. These anticoagulants are particularly important for preventing stroke, which is caused by clots in the brain.
“For me, it’s all about working around my atrial fibrillation and not letting it take over…”
“I am on the journey now,” Rebecca says, “and I really do everything I can to look after myself. I keep track of my pulse, I eat healthily, I work out, and I try not to get stressed as that can really affect me.
“What people don’t understand is how atrial fibrillation detrimentally affects your energy levels – I don’t have that ‘energy reserve’ anymore, which is definitely a challenge with three boys under the age of 15!
“For me, it’s all about working around my atrial fibrillation and not letting it take over,” she adds. “I advise anyone with atrial fibrillation to look after themselves and keep a diary so you know what your triggers are. This campaign by the Irish Heart Foundation is so important, it’s really simple to check your pulse every day, and it’s something we all should incorporate into our daily routine.”
The Prevent a Stroke: Feel the Pulse campaign
The Irish Heart Foundation says it’s really simple to check your pulse for an irregular heartbeat. “Just remember 2x2x2,” they say, “two fingers on your wrist, twice a day, for two weeks.” See step-by-step instructions below:
- Sitting in a chair, rest your arm, palm facing upwards, on the arm of the chair or on a table.
- Put two fingers – your middle finger and index finger – on your wrist at the base of your thumb.
- Press down gently until you feel your pulse.
- Use a watch, clock or phone to time 30 seconds. Count the number of beats you feel in 30 seconds and then multiply the result by two. This is the number of beats per minute.
- A normal resting pulse is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, and the beats are regular.
- Do this twice a day, for two weeks, and use the Irish Heart Foundation’s Pulse Check card to keep a record.
- Make sure you’re sitting down when you check your pulse and don’t drink caffeine or alcohol or smoke beforehand.
If your pulse feels irregular, very fast or you have difficulty feeling your pulse, contact your doctor or freephone the Irish Heart Foundation’s Heart and Stroke Helpline on 1800 25 25 50.
For more information, visit: irishheart.ie/feelthepulse
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