Take Your Pulse and Prevent A Stroke

Hopefully by now everyone has gotten the message that atrial fibrillation is associated with stroke (and, most importantly, that we have ways to prevent those associated strokes).

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the normal, regular, synchronous action of the upper chambers of the heart becomes chaotic, rapid and inefficient. Take a look at this video to get a good understanding of what happens in atrial fibrillation:.

How do you know if you have atrial fibrillation?

Some who go into atrial fibrillation know it right away because they feel bad-they feel what we doctors term palpitations:their heart beating rapidly or irregularly (fluttering).They may have other symptoms associated with this such as dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath. Many, however, go into atrial fibrillation and are not aware of it.

The first symptom they feel may be a stroke due to a clot developing in the upper chambers of the heart dislodging and going down an artery to the brain, a process beautifully (seriously, this is really wonderful and the narrator has a great British accent) animated in this video: 

The diagnosis is often made when the patient’s pulse is felt, and an irregularity is noted, or if an ECG is done for some reason (not uncommonly prior to surgery).

Atrial Fibrillation Can Be Diagnosed By Taking Your Pulse

Taking the pulse is an easy, cheap, low-tech technique which is surprisingly good at detecting atrial fibrillation.

The European Society of Cardiology  recommends this as a screening technique for all patients over age 65 visiting their family doctor. This is based on a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2007, which compared systematic screening with an electrocardiogram (ECG) to screening by taking the pulse. If the pulse was irregular and ECG was then performed. The measurement of pulse was just as good as the systematic ECG technique.

Take a look at this great video featuring Archie Manning (former Saints great QB and father of Peyton and Eli) here which gives an excellent description of how to take your pulse and what to look for. Please ignore the bad accompanying music and the shameless hospital plug at the end.

Take 15 seconds out of your day, every day, and take your pulse.

Take your friends’ and relatives’ pulse when the opportunity presents itself.

You may help prevent a stroke in you or your loved ones.


1 thought on “Take Your Pulse and Prevent A Stroke”

  1. I need some insight/experience relative to Afib patients who are about to undergo Chemotherapy. Current medications to manage the heart problems include Metoprolol, Amiodorone, Xarelto, and a nitro patch (used 8 hours each day).
    Lots of the chemo prep meds do not play well with the above, and therefore I assume the cocktail to be administered regularly thereafter must also have extra care when being considered with cardiac patients.
    This patient is my mother. She’s 84 years of age, and is suffering from Lymphoma as well as the cardiac issues of Afib and – most recently – VT.
    I had NO idea where to place this request for input. SO I plopped it here. I apologize. But I would really appreciate the wealth of your knowledge and perhaps caveats which come from your depth of experience in these matters.
    Again; sorry for inserting this in the wrong place, but I didn’t see another more appropriate segue. And I can’t believe that we’re unique to this topic.
    If this is something that does not fit well in your blog, then feel free to write to me directly. I won’t abuse the favour.
    London, ON Canada


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