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Atrial fibrillation (AF) is not only the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia, affecting approximately two per cent of the general population, but also represents a leading cause of stroke. Blood clots can form in the left atrial appendage (LAA) as a result of stagnated circulation and blood pooling in a confined space – this can increase the risk of stroke by up to five-fold.

Strokes are often more severe among AF patients and AF-related strokes are nearly twice as likely to result in death. Furthermore, women with AF are twice as likely to be killed by stroke than male AF sufferers.

An important factor to be aware of is that AF often goes undetected. Many people with AF experience no symptoms until they experience a serious complication such as a stroke or heart failure. Whilst the exact cause of AF is unknown it is more common in those with other heart conditions. Heart arrhythmias are often only picked up in routine tests or investigations for other conditions.

However, new methods of detection are being pioneered and Dr Wajid Hussain, consultant cardiologist, and Sally Manning, senior cardiology pharmacist at Harefield Hospital are leading the way by bringing these devices into practice. 

Two years ago, Dr Hussain encouraged patients to use handheld ‘thumb’ ECGs, developed by Zenicor Medical Systems in collaboration with Swedish researchers, to help diagnose arrhythmia in a more reliable and cost-effective way. Whilst these are still in use, a new device, AliveCor, has brought further improvements to end-patient use and affordability.

These mobile ECGs sit on the back of smartphone devices and enable ECG recordings comparable to readings from Lead 1 of standard ECG machines. Through the use of a free downloadable app, patients can take a reading in just 30 seconds in addition to tracking symptoms like palpitations and shortness of breath, habits like caffeine or alcohol consumption, and activities like exercise or sleep. This information can then be wirelessly transferred to their managing physician for monitoring.

The AliveECG App also includes a highly accurate and FDA-cleared Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Detector. It is this element of the device that Sally Manning is using in a new study on detection of AF in community pharmacies. The study, funded by The Health Foundation will allow pharmacists to identify patients who are unaware that they are in AF or have attributed their symptoms to something else with the aim of reducing stroke.

Remember, if you have chest pain and notice a sudden change in your heartbeat don't ignore it, see you GP or go to accident and emergency immediately. For more information on these devices or study or to book an appointment with Dr Wajid Hussain, please call +44 (0)20 3131 8538 or email privatepatients@rbht.nhs.uk