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Atrial fibrillation, otherwise known as an irregular heartbeat, is a big contributing factor for a stroke, but it isn’t something people can always feel. In fact, many people with irregular heartbeats are unaware that they have one until a medical professional detects it.
Doctors test for atrial fibrillation by hooking people up to an ECG machine and monitor their heartbeat for irregularities. Sometimes they ask patients to wear a Holter monitor for a day or a week.
German researchers from Universitatsklinikum Erlangen have found that teaching people to take their own pulse may be just as effective, and much simpler, than visiting a doctor or being wired up to an uncomfortable contraption for the day.
The team of scientists trained 220 older people who had already experienced a stroke to tell the difference between a normal pulse and the fluttery or abnormal rhythm of atrial fibrillation. The training was considered a success if the trainees were able to measure their pulse correctly twice in a row – 196 people passed, a success rate of 89%. The scientists were able to see if they were measuring their pulse correctly by being continuously monitored on an ECG machine, which the researchers could see but the participants couldn’t.
Over 57 of the participants found that they had irregular heartbeats.
False positive results are the only downside for self-regulation of pulse – if people are looking for irregular heartbeats, they’re more likely to assume that they have them as opposed to be unbiased and monitor their heartbeats regularly.
Dr Ralph Sacco, chairman of the University of Miami’s department of neurology said: “Many times people don’t know that they’re in afib (atrial fibrillation). This group is trying to propose a more simple, cheap method that may work, having stroke patients and their caregivers, like relatives, take and monitor their pulse.”
As atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeats, are a major signifier of stoke or TIA (transient ischaemic attacks) being able to monitor your pulse and heartbeat could be a great step in realising when you’re at risk.