Stark warning of ‘ticking time bomb’ heart problem which could may nearly 2,000 Suffolk people
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Hundreds of people in West Suffolk could be living with a potentially dangerous undiagnosed heart problem which has been described as a “ticking time bomb”.
It is estimated that 1,700 in the area are unaware they are living with atrial fibrillation (AF) but are unaware they have the condition or the risks it causes.
AF causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate and is one of the major causes of severe stroke, particularly among the over-65s.
The condition is all the more dangerous because many sufferers do not show any obvious symptoms and may be completely unaware they have it, the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said.
However health workers say they have successfully trialled a simple device that can identify those likely to have the condition. They are now teaming up with Abbeycroft Leisure to try and identify those at risk.
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The Kardia Alivecor device measures a person's pulse for irregularity and shows within a minute if they might have AF.
OneLife Suffolk has also recently started testing people for AF when delivering the NHS Health Check.
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Martin Bate, transformation project manager for the CCG, said time was of the essence when it came to diagnosing and treating AF.
He said: "We have a problem in Suffolk because data shows that of all the people admitted to West Suffolk Hospital following a stroke, 35% of them had AF. The national average is 25%.
"We are now pursuing the 'Detect, Protect, Correct and Perfect' policy. The 'Detect' part involves raising awareness of the symptoms of AF, particularly among the over-65s.
"The 'Protect' element involves GPs and hospitals adopting a decisive approach when AF is diagnosed and putting people straight onto the new oral anti-coagulants.
"None of the possible side effects of these anti-coagulant drugs is anywhere near as dangerous as the risk of a severe stroke.
"The 'Perfect' part is about optimising treatment to ensure patients receive the correct dose of anti-coagulant.
"The rest is down to the patients. They must keep taking the drugs once they've been prescribed.
"To not do so could lead to a severe stroke that could prove fatal or lead to major permanent disability."
In addition to the support Abbeycroft is providing, a network of trained volunteers has targeted large local employers, including West Suffolk Council and British Sugar.
It has already detected 48 people with possible AF, while a further 100 potential sufferers have been identified through AF testing that was recently carried out alongside the over-65s flu clinics at GP surgeries.
One such volunteer is Ben Lord, chairman of Ixworth Parish Council, whose grandfather died from a stroke caused by AF.
He said: "Our volunteer network enables us to use the Alivecor devices to target undiagnosed people across our area.
"Without us the challenge of identifying undiagnosed AF sufferers would be significantly harder and longer, thereby increasing their chances of suffering the worst possible outcomes."