Pharmacists step up in a heartbeat

Australian pharmacists are stepping out in a nationwide campaign to identify Australians with a condition that increases their risk of stroke five-fold.

Hearts4Heart, an organisation supporting Australians with heart arrhythmia, created the campaign in which more than 25 pharmacies across Australia have been invited to team up and offer free pulse and heart rate testing during Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week (September 16-22).

Designed to improve detection and treatment of atrial fibrillation, the campaign includes an event in Federal Parliament House on September 17 where pharmacists will test politicians for an irregular heartbeat while highlighting the importance of stroke prevention therapy.

Heart4Heart CEO, Tanya Hall said, “pharmacists are ideally placed to ensure Australians know as much about atrial fibrillation as they do about cholesterol and blood pressure.”

The campaign draws on new research finding only one-in-three Australians aged 65 years and over has discussed their heart health with a doctor in the past 12 months, while only one in 10 has discussed atrial fibrillation as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease over the same period. This is despite Australians in the 65 years and over range visiting a doctor six times a year on average.1

However, recently released medical guidelines state that one-in-10 strokes occur in people with previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation.The guidelines recommend routine screening for an irregular heartbeat (using a pulse test or handheld electrocardiogram) of people aged 65 years or older.

“Pharmacists are perfectly placed to identify an irregular heartbeat, which is the critical first step to preventing what could be a catastrophic stroke,” said Bev Mistry-Cable, a pharmacist from Cooleman Court Pharmacy, Canberra.

“People will often seek advice from pharmacists, and this is an ideal opportunity to detect early warning signs of what could be atrial fibrillation. Early detection and timely referral can make a significant difference,” she said.

An irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots to form in a chamber of the heart which can then travel to the brain, causing a devastating stroke. It’s estimated that one-in-four strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.3

While experts say that early diagnosis of atrial fibrillation must be matched by long-term use of medication that can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 70 per cent, a new analysis produced for Hearts4Heart reveals that around 25 per cent of people prescribed medicine to prevent stroke discontinue therapy within 12 months.

“This is alarming,” Ms Hall said. “We need pharmacists and GPs to ensure people with atrial fibrillation understand why they’ve been prescribed an anticoagulant and why they need to continue to take this medication over the long term.”

Hearts4Heart is using Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week to highlight the need for early diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat and appropriate long-term use of stroke prevention therapy.

Atrial fibrillation screening and information stations will operate at hospitals and pharmacies across Australia during Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week. More information is available at www.hearts4heart.org.au.

References

  1. YouGov Galaxy. National Poll of 550 Australians aged >65 Years. August 2019

  2. National Heart Foundation of Australia and Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand: Australian clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and management of atrial fibrillation 2018

  3. Stroke Foundation. https://strokefoundation.org.au/About-Stroke/Prevent-Stroke/Atrial-fibrillation

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