Healthy living

Heart warning sign puts you at risk of stroke

Heart warning sign puts you at risk of stroke Two thirds of us don't know the signs

Thousands of people in the UK are at a greater risk of having a stroke because they have an irregular heartbeat but don't know it, a survey found.

Two thirds of people surveyed were unaware of the symptoms of irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation (AF), a major risk factor for stroke.

Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heart rhythm disturbances seen by doctors, affecting approximately 750,000 people in the UK alone.

The most common symptom of AF is a fast and irregular heartbeat, usually over 140 beats a minute. Other symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, light headedness, fainting or fatigue.

Steve Benveniste, at The Stroke Association, which commissioned the survey of 1000 adults, said: "Atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for stroke. It accounts for 14 per cent of all strokes and 12,500 strokes a year are thought to be directly linked to the condition.

"The majority of people recognise factors such as smoking and high blood pressure as risk factors for stroke, yet as this research highlights, public awareness of AF as a risk factor is incredibly low.

"Many people may not recognise the symptoms of AF as a serious health problem, resulting in them not being diagnosed and leaving them at risk of stroke.

"There is a great need to improve awareness of AF and increase the number of people being screened for the condition in order to reduce the number of AF related strokes in the UK."

Professor Gregory Y H Lip, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Birmingham, added: "AF is the most common heart rhythm disorder, and all of us have a one in four risk of developing it in our lifetime.

"We could prevent around four and a half thousand people from having a devastating stroke every year if more people had greater awareness of AF and sought out the appropriate treatment from a medical professional."

This article was published on Fri 28 January 2011

Image © James Steidl -

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