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Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month

Clinical negligence lawyer, Charlotte Cooper, looks at the problems an abnormal heartbeat can cause.

Heart beat monitor
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Charlotte is a solicitor working with Olive Lewin in the clinical negligence department. Charlotte assists Olive with a wide range of high value and complex clinical negligence cases. These include cases involving spinal injuriesbrain injuries, claims arising out birth injuries such as such as cerebral palsy, maternal death,  severe tear injuries following delivery, and drug toxicity claims. 
September marks Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month. More than 1.5 million people have been diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation in the UK, however it is estimated that a further 500,000 remain undiagnosed due to lack of awareness. This number is expected to double by 2050. 


What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is an abnormal heartbeat or condition in which the atria (upper chambers of the heart) fail to contract in a regular way, meaning that your pulse becomes irregular. 

Some people with AF suffer episodes, whereby the heart will go into AF for a short period of time before returning to a normal rhythm. Some people switch between the two, which is known as Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation and some people are constantly in AF, which is known as Permanent Atrial Fibrillation.

AF is the most common form of arrhythmia yet many people do not know they have it because they don’t always experience symptoms when their heart rate changes. AF is often only detected when an individual is seen by their doctor for another reason. Those who do experience symptoms will often have shortness of breath, dizziness and/or palpitations.

AF is usually diagnosed using an Electrocardiogram (ECG), which is a simple test used to check your heart’s rhythm and identify any abnormality.

Whilst there is no cure for AF, medication is available to restore the heart to a normal rhythm as well as maintain it. People with AF are also often prescribed with anti-coagulants to prevent blood clots, which can lead to a stroke.


Why is it important to raise awareness?

Someone with AF is five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without AF. This is because when the heart is in AF, the atria do not pump blood as they should, causing blood to frequently clot in the heart. The clots are then carried to the small blood vessels in the brain, blocking arteries and causing a stroke. 

Another risk of AF is heart failure. This is most likely in someone with persistent AF, as their heart muscles are weakened because the heart is unable to pump blood around the body efficiently. 

Stroke and heart failure are both serious and potentially fatal conditions, therefore in raising awareness of AF, it is hoped that those who have the disorder will get the treatment they need so as to reduce the number of AF related strokes and AF related heart failure. 

At present, research suggests that someone experiences an AF related stroke every 15 seconds.


How can you get involved?

Put simply, you should take the time to get to know your own pulse and heartbeat. That way you are likely to detect any abnormality which can then be investigated by your GP. 

You should also encourage others to do the same and in doing so it is hoped that awareness will be raised both nationally and internationally. 

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