Know Your Pulse
The simplest way to detect heart rhythm disorders like AF is through a simple pulse check.
Our Know Your Pulse campaign promotes routine pulse checks in GP surgeries and during flu clinics to detect AF in the most at risk groups in the community.
However, it is just as easy to Know Your Pulse and that of loved ones by yourself; checking your pulse is easy and involves four simple steps:
1) To assess your resting pulse rate in your wrist, sit down for 5 minutes beforehand. Remember that any stimulants taken before the reading will affect the rate (such as caffeine or nicotine). You will need a watch or clock with a second hand.
2) Take off your watch and hold your left or right hand out with your palm facing up and your elbow slightly bent.
3) With your other hand, place your index and middle fingers on your wrist, at the base of your thumb. Your fingers should sit between the bone on the edge of your wrist and the stringy tendon attached to your thumb (as shown in the image). You may need to move your fingers around a little to find the pulse. Keep firm pressure on your wrist with your fingers in order to feel your pulse.
4) Count for 30 seconds, and multiply by 2 to get your heart rate in beats per minute. If your heart rhythm is irregular, you should count for 1 minute and do not multiply.
Please watch and share this instructional Know Your Pulse video for more information:
Why is it important to Know Your Pulse?
- An irregular pulse could indicate underlying AF. Is your pulse beating like a clock?
- Atrial fibrillation (AF) causes 12,000 debilitating and fatal strokes in the UK each year, early detection is vital
- At the age of 40, we all have a 1 in 4 life-time risk of developing AF which increases the risk of stroke 500%
- There is no national programme of pulse checks or heart rhythm screening, please share information on our campaign with your GP
We have prepared resources as part of the campaign. These are available to view and download below:
Please search "Know Your Heart Rhythm" in the Apple App Store to download our iPhone app and be more AF Aware
In hospital investigations to detect AF
The simplest way to detect AF is to feel a pulse. If the rhythm of the beat seems irregular, this may indicate AF. However it is very important to check this with a doctor and to find out whether you do actually have AF. If a clinician suspects you have Atrial Fibrillation, they will arrange for you to have an ECG (electrocardiogram).
An ECG is painless and records the electrical activity of your heart. Usually this is carried out in a GP surgery or at a local hospital, however, if your episodes ‘come and go’, you may be given a monitor – this is worn (simply taped to your chest) for 24 hours or more, and continuously records the electrical activities of your heart. When the monitor is returned the clinician can download the information and assess it. The heart rhythm can be diagnosed with certainty and possible underlying heart problems may often be detected.
Recording an ECG
Following the ECG, and if you are diagnosed as having AF, you may need to have an echocardiogram (a scan) which can assess the structure and overall function of the heart. This test is painless and without any risk to a patient. The results from this test will tell the physician about heart muscle disease (thickening or thinning), the size of the main pumping chambers, and the state of the heart valves, any of which might have aggravated the heart rhythm abnormality.