Pharmacy ‘essential’ in AF screening


cartoon heart dressed as doctor

Pharmacists are being encouraged to talk to patients about atrial fibrilliation, which causes 6,000 strokes every year

hearts4heart, which raises awareness about the condition, is rolling out free mobile heart testing stations in hospitals and pharmacies across the country during AF Awareness Week (September 18-24).

The charity believes that thousands of cases of AF could be detected during the week.

CEO Tanya Hall told the AJP that pharmacy was selected as one of the channels for the stations because of its accessibility.

“Most people tend to visit the pharmacy more often than anywhere else, and so it’s the usual first point of care,” she says. “So we find it essential for pharmacy to be involved in screening for AF.

“Particularly with patients over the age of 65, we’d like pharmacists to have a discussion in terms of whether or not they’ve been screened for AF – we encourage this during the awareness week, but we’d also like to see it ongoing and really, for pharmacists to have this conversation with almost every patient that they see.

“The devices we’re using to screen in pharmacy are blood pressure devices. So if they’re already doing blood pressure tests, this is something they can do as a two-in-one: they can check blood pressure and for atrial fibrillation at the same time.”

Ms Hall says that awareness about AF is low compared to awareness of the risks of high blood pressure.

As many as 30% of the 460,000 Australians with AF are believed to remain undiagnosed and therefore at risk of stroke.

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

“With AF costing the health system $1.63 billion every year, there is no excuse for complacency.”

People aged over 65 and those with existing heart conditions are also being encouraged to visit a testing station or talk to their doctor about their pulse.

They are also being encouraged to routinely ask for pulse testing during blood pressure and general health checks – important because AF is not always picked up by a single pulse reading.

Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Sharon McGowan lent her support to AF Awareness Week.

“Stroke remains a leading cause of disability and death in Australia and atrial fibrillation is an important and treatable risk factor for stroke,” she says.

“We don’t want a stroke to be the first time any Australian discovers they have an irregular heartbeat. Pulse checking is quick, it’s simple and could ultimately save lives.”  

While a healthy heart generally beats between 60 and 100 times per minute, atrial fibrillation may cause this to increase to more than 400 beats per minute.

The condition is associated with a five-to-sevenfold increase in the risk of stroke and a threefold increase in the risk of heart failure.

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