Looking for irregularities

Pharmacists are joining a nationwide campaign to identify Australians with an undiagnosed heart irregularity that increases their risk of stroke five-fold

More than 25 pharmacies from across the nation will team up with Hearts4Heart to offer free pulse and heart rate testing during Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week (16-22 September 2019).

The campaign to improve detection and treatment of atrial fibrillation will include an event in Federal Parliament House on 17 September where pharmacists will test politicians for an irregular heartbeat and highlight the importance of stroke prevention therapy.

“Pharmacists are ideally placed to ensure Australians know as much about atrial fibrillation as they do about cholesterol and blood pressure,” said Tanya Hall, CEO of Heart4Heart, which support Australians with a heat arrhythmia.

New research commissioned by Hearts4Heart – involving 550 Australians aged 65 years and over – found 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 is despite Australians of this age visiting a doctor around six times a year on average.

Recently released medical guidelines recommend routine screening (using a pulse test or handheld electrocardiogram [ECG]) of people aged 65 years or older for an irregular heartbeat. These guidelines state that one in 10 strokes occur in people with previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation.

“Pharmacists are perfectly placed to identify an irregular heartbeat, which is the critical first step to preventing what could be a catastrophic stroke,” said Bev Mistry-Cable, a pharmacist from Cooleman Court Pharmacy in the Canberra suburb of Weston.

“People will often seek advice from pharmacists, and this is an ideal opportunity to detect early warning signs of what could be atrial fibrillation. Early detection and timely referral can make a significant difference,” she said.

“We have a strong commitment to public health and wellbeing, with the primary focus of atrial fibrillation screening on prevention which is the future of healthcare. We are really looking forward to checking the pulse and heart rate of our nation’s leaders and also offering free testing for local residents.”

An irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots to form in a chamber of the heart which can then travel to the brain, causing a devastating stroke. It is estimated that one-in-four strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.

Experts say that 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%.

A new analysis produced for Hearts4Heart reveals that around 25% of people prescribed anticoagulation medicine to prevent stroke discontinue therapy within 12 months.

“This is alarming. We need pharmacists and GPs to ensure people with atrial fibrillation understand why they’ve been prescribed an anticoagulant and why they need to continue to take this medication over the long term,” Ms Hall said.

Ms Mistry-Cable said, “Medication adherence plays such an important role in managing atrial fibrillation, as inconsistent anticoagulation therapy could lead to undesirable outcomes for patients”.

“It is important to speak with patients with atrial fibrillation, so they understand their prescribed medications, assist them in ways to improve adherence and also ensure that they are supported to understand causes, effects and complications of the condition. Understanding these issues is essential in motivating patients to engage with their long-term prescribed treatment regime,” she added.

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

Atrial fibrillation screening and information stations will operate at hospitals and pharmacies across Australia during Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week. More information is available here.

For Carlene McMaugh’s clinical tips for pharmacists on atrial fibrillation, click here.

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