THOUSANDS of people in Somerset with one of the most common heart problems are being advised that aspirin may not be good enough following the latest guidance by an organisation that gives health advice to the Government.
Many patients with an irregular heartbeat, which increases the risk of having a stroke, should be prescribed Warfarin or similar blood-thinning medicine rather than aspirin.
Doctors in Somerset have for a number of years followed that policy, which was announced in new guidelines issued today (Wednesday, June 18) by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Dr Mark Dayer, a consultant cardiologist at Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital, said there’s a one in four chance of having an irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation at some stage in life.
“Some people barely know they have it, for others it’s very disabling,” said Dr Dayer.
“Once you get it, apart from the potential impact on your quality of life, it can also predispose you to having a stroke.
“Patients are given anti-coagulant drugs to thin their blood, such as Warfarin or newer drugs which have only come out in the past couple of years.
“Probably one in three patients have been taking aspirin, but the data says it’s not that good and more people should have Warfarin or the new agents.
“It’s quite a change and brings the UK up to speed with Europe, although Somerset is already ahead of the game.”
ATRIAL FIBRILLATION (AF) – THE FACTS.
*Anybody can get AF, but you’ll be more prone to it if your blood pressure is not well controlled, you are overweight, or you have a heart attack.
*A healthy diet and moderate exercise could help prevent AF, although too much exercise intense could make you vulnerable to AF.
*In AF, the heart cannot work as well as it should and blood clots can form, which in turn increases the risk of a stroke.
*A normal heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you're resting and is regular – to measure yours, feel the pulse in your wrist or neck. In AF, the heart rate may be over 140 beats a minute, although it can be any speed.
*The main difference between a normal rhythm and AF is that you are unable to predict when the next heart beat will come along, as the heart rate is irregular.
*It may lead to problems such as dizziness and shortness of breath. You may also be aware of a fast and irregular heartbeat (palpitations) and feel very tired.
*Some people with AF have no symptoms and are completely unaware that their heart rate is not regular.
*AF is generally not life threatening, but it can be uncomfortable and treatment may involve medication, cardioversion – a controlled electric shock to restore normal heart rhythm, catheter ablation to prevent AF from occurring, or a pacemaker.