SAVING LIVES: A simple test can detect an irregular heartbeat.
SAVING LIVES: A simple test can detect an irregular heartbeat. Contributed

Free heart test offered

WHITSUNDAY residents are being urged to take advantage of a free testing station in Proserpine to check whether they have an irregular heartbeat that increases the risk of stroke five-fold.

As part of a campaign developed in response to alarmingly low levels of testing for a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation, screening will take place at Diagnostic Ultrasound Imaging (in the medical imaging department at Proserpine Hospital) from 10am-3.30pm Monday, September 16 and Tuesday, September 17.

The campaign led by Hearts4Heart comes as a nationwide survey of 550 people aged 65 and over revealed that only one in three older Australians has discussed their heart health with a doctor in the past 12 months, and only one in 10 has discussed atrial fibrillation as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in this period.

This concerns experts who say new medical guidelines recommend routine screening of people aged 65 years or older for atrial fibrillation.

These guidelines state that one in 10 strokes occur in people with previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation.

"The research shows that on average, older Australians see a doctor six times a year which provides plenty of opportunity to discuss and detect an irregular heartbeat,” Tanya Hall, CEO of patient support group Hearts4Heart told the Whitsunday Times.

Ms Hall, an atrial fibrillation patient herself, is advocating for pulse and heart rate testing to become routine for people over the age of 65 when seeing their doctor.

When undiagnosed and untreated, an irregular heartbeat can cause blood to pool in a chamber of the heart and form a clot that can travel to the brain, causing a devastating stroke.

As part of Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week, Hearts4Heart is setting up mobile heart rate testing stations in hospitals and pharmacies across the nation, which it believes could detect thousands of cases of atrial fibrillation.

Ms Hall urges residents, particularly those over 65 or with existing heart conditions, to take advantage of the free testing or make an appointment with their doctor.

"Atrial fibrillation-related strokes can be prevented, but diagnosis remains the critical first step,” she said.

"It is estimated that one in four strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.

"We don't want a stroke to be the first time any Australian discovers they have an irregular heartbeat.

"Pulse and heart-rate testing is quick, it's simple and could ultimately save lives.” Experts say early diagnosis of atrial fibrillation must be matched by long-term use of medication that can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 70 per cent.

Hearts4Heart is using Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week (September 16-22) to highlight the need for early diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat and appropriate long-term use of stroke prevention therapy.

More information is available at: www.hearts4heart.org.au.


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