Today's post is a health lesson. Reading it could save your life. I chair the Atrial Fibrillation (AF) All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). Its one of the myriad of complaints I've recovered from over the last few years. Recovery from illness is my specialist subject. Today we launched in the House of Commons a document titled 'Taking The Pulse'. Its about raising awareness of AF and about how to treat it. I thought I'd share some basic stuff with you about what AF is. There are a lot of you out there suffering from it.
AF is the most common arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). This means the blood doesn't flow through all parts of the heart as it should, which can lead to some deposit growing in there, and breaking off as a clot in the bloodstream. Clot's first port of call is the brain - which can lead to a stroke. Suffering from AF will make you 5 times more likely to have a stroke, which is likely to be more serious, and more likely to lead to your death. So do not be stupid if you suffer a bit of breathlessness from time to time or anything that feels a bit odd. Ask your GP/district nurse to check your pulse and if in any doubt ask for an ECG. A third of over 75s suffer from AF, as do many younger people - even very fit athletes. Welsh dual Olympic gold medallist rower, Tom James is a sufferer.
Lot of discussion today was about what to do if you have AF. Treatment will probably involve a daily pill/pills to thin down your blood - usually of Warfarin. Biggest hassle is the regular blood tests to ensure correct dosage - which is very important. Too little and it doesn't work, while too much could lead to a internal bleed. Warfarin is cheap as chips, but the blood testing infrastructure is a bit of a pain and a cost on the NHS. There are new Warfarin replacement products coming onto the market but they are much more expensive at present. As with a lot of treatments, the up front cost of these new drugs would be an additional burden on the NHS, but the long term savings in reduced strokes would make it worthwhile. But the argument has to be made. Its short term cost against long term gain - never very appealing to Gov't.
Some of us can be fortunate enough to be able to correct the irregularity by attaching some jump leads to chest and back and shocking the heart back into sinus rhythm (normal). General anaesthetic so I knew nothing about it. Neither did Tony Blair when he was done. Most upsetting for me was having the manly covering of chest hair shaved off, and the itching on the parts of my back I couldn't reach as the back hair started to regrow. Fortunately my heartbeat has not slipped back into atrial fibrillation. Anyway, today's message is about 'Taking The Pulse'. You know it makes sense.