Community Patients

FACT SHEET – ATRIAL FIBRILLATION

As this week is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week, PulseLine invited founder and CEO of Hearts4Heart, Tanya Hall, to help us better understand atrial fibrillation by sharing some important insights about the condition.

What is atrial fibrillation and how common is it?

Atrial Fibrillation (also known as AF) is a prevalent and dangerous arrhythmia problem that affects almost half a million Australians. (AF) is a heart condition whereby the top chambers of your heart (the atria) beat fast and erratically. In Atrial Fibrillation, your heart may not pump blood around the body as well as it should. If left untreated, AF may lead to serious health complications, such as stroke and heart failure.

Why is AF a problem if it’s left untreated?

In people with atrial fibrillation, blood may become trapped in the heart chambers and cause a clot. This blood clot can then travel to the brain, blocking the blood supply to the brain and causing a stroke.

People with atrial fibrillation are five-to-seven times more likely to suffer a stroke, and three times more likely to develop heart failure. For this reason, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential. There are a number of treatment options available to help manage symptoms and lower your risk of heart failure and stroke. Many people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms, but others experience a racing heart, thumping in the chest, chest pain or discomfort, fatigue, tiredness, loss of breath, or dizziness.

What is happening during Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week?

As part of AF Awareness Week, hearts4heart is setting up testing stations in hospitals, PG Clinics and pharmacies across the nation for free testing for Atrial Fibrillation. This is a wonderful opportunity for people to have comprehensive screening for AF in addition to assessing their risk of developing AF. However, we encourage Australians, particularly for those over the age of 65 to visit their GP for regular screening for AF to reduce the risk of stroke. We encourage all Australians to visit one of our sites providing free screening during AF Awareness Week to reduce your risk of Stroke. You can visit the Hearts4Hearts website at hearts4heart.org.au for a full list of locations.

Why is it so important to be screened for AF?

30% of people living with AF are undiagnosed and are at risk of stroke. For people living with atrial fibrillation, the risk of stroke is 5-6 times greater than the general population and up to 80% of these strokes are preventable.

What final message do you have for the community to coincide with Atrial Fibrillation Awareness week?

While AF can affect anyone at any age, the risks increase as you get older.  The most common causes of atrial fibrillation are abnormalities or damage to the structure of the heart over time because of a heart attack or long-term high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnoea or obesity. Managing lifestyle factors such as limiting alcohol intake, stopping smoking, managing a healthy diet and regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of developing AF.

Finally, we also encourage Australians and in particular medical professionals to visit the Heart Foundations’ website for the new Australian AF Clinical Guidelines recently launched at the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand annual conference.

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