SMART watches are nifty gadgets - but did you know they could potentially help to save your life?

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) affects over one million in the UK and can increase the risk of stroke - yet it is a condition which often goes undiagnosed.

One of the main recognised symptoms of AF is an irregular pulse on examination. Some patients can have breathlessness or palpitation but often put it down to ageing.

However, Bradford GP, Dr Matthew Fay who is also chief clinical executive for Affinity Care, a 25 partner superpractice based in Bradford and providing care for a population of more than 64,000, explains how he has seen patients who have been alerted to potential issues with their pulse through their Smart Watch or fitness tracker, Fitbit.

“Many people know how to check their own pulse - it’s basic first aid - it should tick like a clock,” he explains.

Smart Watch wearers, or wearers of Fitbits are often alerted to the fact something may not be quite right through their gadget - according to Dr Fay.

“I have had people coming in - I run a cardiology service service in Shipley - and regularly get people telling us their Fit Bit has told them there is a problem,” says Dr Fay.

“These incidental findings can save your life.”

Dr Fay says usually when a problem is picked up through the Smart Watch or Fit Bit it can kick-start the conversation with their GP. Tests can then be carried out to see what is going on.

Those who suffer from an AF-related stroke usually have a longer recovery. “If you have a constant problem which puts you at risk the doctor can have a conversation with you about the risk and what you want to do about that risk,” says Dr Fay.

If AF is diagnosed the stroke risk can be reduced with oral anticoagulation. a type of medication that helps prevent blood clots.

Dr Fay explains that involving the patient in the decision on what medication to take means they are more likely to stick with it.

“You feel you are involved in that decision and are more likely to take it ongoing,” explains Dr Fay, a member of the NICE AF Guideline Development Group and currently a clinical advisor to the AF Association, STARS (the Syncope Trust), Arrhythmia Alliance, Anticoagulation UK, on the Expert Advisory Panel for the Stroke Association, the faculty for Heart Valve Voice, Trustee of the AF Association and Thrombosis UK.

While AF affects more than one million people in the UK, according to The Stroke Association, it is estimated there could be another half a million people in the UK with undiagnosed AF. If adequately treated, it is estimated around 7,000 strokes would be prevented and over 2,000 lives saved every year in England alone.

While anticoagulants are used in the treatment of AF, a new survey suggests that, contrary to national guidelines, the majority of people with AF prescribed anticoagulants were not given a choice of which anticoagulant they would receive.

The survey of more than 200 patients, conducted by the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Pfizer Collaboration and AF Turnaround - a partnership of leading medical experts and professional patient associations who are focused on preventing AF-related stroke by encouraging the adoption of national clinical guidelines for managing AF - suggests implementation of the guidelines can be further improved to ensure consistency regarding the aspect of patient involvement in decision making.

“One of the key recommendations introduced by NICE five years ago to involve patients in decision making to reduce their risk of an AF-related stroke may not be happening consistently. It is known that AF is a leading cause of stroke and that AF-related strokes can be more devastating and debilitating than any other type of stroke. 20% of strokes are due to AF and yet medication exists to prevent them – it is troubling that more is not being done,”said Trudie Lobban MBE, Founder & CEO of AF Association and Arrhythmia Alliance, Co-Chair of AF Turnaround.

“Educating patients about AF and involving them in decisions about their anticoagulant therapy should be a key priority area in how healthcare professionals deliver a personalised package of care in the current guidelines.4 Anyone with AF who has been prescribed anticoagulants should be having a conversation with their doctor about the anticoagulant therapy options available to them in order to help reduce their risk of an AF-related stroke or bleeding” said Eve Knight, Chief Executive and Cofounder of Anticoagulation UK and Co-Chair of AF Turnaround.

“Anticoagulants are effective at reducing the risk of an AF-related stroke, but it’s crucial that patients are properly assessed and supported in their decision as regards prevention of AF-related stroke,” adds Dr Fay.

“It’s encouraging however that the survey showed that the vast majority of patients are being prescribed effective, preventative treatments to reduce their risk of having an AF-related stroke.”

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