Monitoring your heartbeat for proactive heart-health
“Pulse-taking” is commonly used for diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine, but it’s also used in Western medicine to check for atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia. About 1% of Chinese population suffer from this condition.
To see if you have atrial fibrillation, first check your own pulse for a regular rhythm and your heart rate per minute. If either seems unusual, consult your doctor immediately. The resting heart rate of a healthy adult should be about 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm), and it should have a regular “beat”. The heartbeat of people with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be too fast or too slow, and irregular, which may cause them to feel unwell and experience dizziness, breathlessness, or chest pain. About 30% to 40% of people with the condition, however, may not have any obvious symptoms.
Atrial fibrillation on its own is not the main issue: what concerns doctors most is the risk of stroke caused by it. By preventing the heart from effectively pumping blood from an atrium (upper chamber) to a ventricle (lower chamber), atrial fibrillation causes blood to be left behind to form clots. When these blood clots flow to the cerebral blood vessels, there is a chance they may cause a severe ischemic stroke. People with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to suffer a stroke compared to the average person. If other high-risk factors are also present, such as hypertension, the risk of stroke is even higher.
Although atrial fibrillation may not have obvious symptoms, it is still detectable. In recent years, the medical community has proposed self-monitoring of the pulse, in either hand, for a regular heart rhythm. Where the beat is regular, people are advised to continue taking the pulse for longer period, since the first two beats may be normal, but the third beat earlier or delayed. Although atrial fibrillation is the most common cause of irregular heartbeat, there are other causes to consider. When in doubt, seek medical advice as soon as possible, and follow your doctor’s instructions for further testing and examination.
Doctors generally confirm atrial fibrillation through an electrocardiogram (ECG), but this method only measures the heart rhythm for ten seconds, while atrial fibrillation may occur intermittently and thus present as a normal sinus rhythm on a patient’s ECG. Some patients may be asked to undergo a longer ECG examination, lasting for at least 24 hours, to confirm their condition. Simple heart rate monitors in the form of handheld devices are also commonly used to diagnose atrial fibrillation.
Because atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke, it is imperative that the condition is detected and treated early. You can take a proactive approach by checking your own pulse daily to confirm your heartbeat is normal, and call your doctor to arrange for a check-up if anything seems wrong. By taking a few minutes each day, you can save yourself a world of heartache!