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Know your pulse campaign launches to save lives

The Heart Foundation is launching an awareness campaign this week, highlighting the importance of knowing how to check your pulse to pick up warning signs that your heart might not be working as well as it should.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common heart rhythm condition which causes an irregular and often a rapid heart rate. It can lead to stroke and heart failure and affects around 60,000 New Zealanders. For some people AF might feel as if the heart is racing or fluttering, others however will be unaware they have it.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin says the condition can strike adults at any age, although it is more common as we get older. Around one in 35 New Zealanders between 35 and 74 have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

“It's also likely there are many more who don't know they have it, making it the most common type of heart rhythm disorder," he says. “That’s why doing a pulse check and learning to know your pulse is so important.”

"On average Māori are more affected and both Māori and Pasifika people tend to develop atrial fibrillation 10 years younger than non-Māori and non-Pasifika."

Sports fanatic Toni Walters might seem an unlikely candidate for a heart condition.

The keen rugby, football, softball and cricket player started getting breathless in his early 50s after walking short distances and felt lightheaded at work. He knew something was wrong.

“My father had a cardiac arrest at 52 when he was out running. And so for me when I noticed the breathlessness I thought something’s not right. I was used to being really fit and I just couldn’t breathe properly.”

Toni decided to get checked out straight away and after a range of tests at hospital, atrial fibrillation was diagnosed.

He was given medication to manage his symptoms and reduce his risk of stroke, as well as getting pills to lower his cholesterol and blood pressure. Toni was also told that some aspects of his lifestyle would need to change so he swapped rugby and running shoes for cycling, improved his diet, and cut back on alcohol.

Toni is now encouraging New Zealanders to learn how to check their pulse as part of the Heart Foundation's know your pulse campaign.

While in his thirties, Life FM’s breakfast radio host Sela Alo was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Further investigation of the condition by cardiologists also revealed a problem with his heart valve that needed open heart surgery.

"You know, if I hadn’t been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, they wouldn't have picked up on the fact that I had a more serious heart issue and I wouldn't be here now. So, in a way I'm kind of glad I was diagnosed with it.”

Sela had a mini stroke while on air although he didn't know what it was at the time.

"I could hear what my co-host was saying to me, but I just couldn’t respond and my body sort of shut down. I remember picking up the phone to talk to a listener who had called through and I couldn't put the phone back on the hook.

"I went to hospital, and they ran through the tests and they diagnosed a mini stroke because of atrial fibrillation."

Sela's advice is to learn how to check your pulse.

“Knowing your pulse will tell you a lot about your heart and it could save your life.”

How to check your pulse:

  • Place three fingers over the inside of your wrist, resting the fingers at the base of your thumb. Take time to feel the pulse under your fingers.
  • Count each beat for a total time of 30 seconds.
  • Double the number of beats you counted and that is your heart rate per minute.

Most people's heart beats regularly and is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm) when resting. An irregular pulse is when the heart doesn’t beat in a regular fashion.

See your doctor if you notice that:

  • your pulse seems irregular or is 'jumping around', even if you do not feel unwell.
  • your pulse seems to be racing some or most of the time and you are feeling unwell
  • your pulse seems to be slow some or most of the time and you are feeling unwell
  • you have a persistent heart rate above 120bpm or below 40bpm.

For more information on atrial fibrilliation and the awareness campaign, click on the button below.


Know your pulse