Older people urged to monitor irregular or rapid heartbeats

INCREASES WITH AGE::More than 100,000 Taiwanese could suffer from irregular heartbeats, making the risks of stroke and death much graver

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Sep 14, 2013 - Page 3

With World Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Day celebrated in more than 20 major cities today — on the second Saturday of September every year — to “bring attention to the prevalence of AF in society,” the Taiwan Heart Rhythm Society (THRS) is joining the cause and calling for increased awareness in Taiwan.

AF is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and people with the disorder are at higher risk of developing stroke and cardiac failure, society chairman Wu Tsu-juey (吳茲睿) said, adding that as the incidence of AF increases with age, it has been estimated that more than 5 percent of people aged 65 and above in a population suffer from AF, which is to say that there are approximately 130,000 people in Taiwan suffering from an irregular heartbeat.

As the Taiwanese population is rapidly aging, “a hefty medical expense might be attributed to the disorder in the future,” Wu said.

“People over 65 are advised by the European Society of Cardiology to use manual pulse palpation to assess for the presence of an abnormal pulse that may indicate underlying AF,” said Chang Kuan-cheng (張坤正), Hospital Division of Cardiology director at China Medical University in Taichung.

“Once an abnormality — a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute, or an irregular heart rate — is detected, they should visit a doctor for an electrocardiogram even if they do not exhibit any typical AF symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest tightness, dizziness or shortness of breath,” Chang said.

While the exact cause of AF is not yet entirely known, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are now recognized as risk factors for AF, with the risk increasing with age.

“People with AF have a mortality rate that is two times higher and are five times more at risk of stroke than those without,” Chang added.

“According to the data provided by the Health Promotion Administration, one out of every six of the annual 80,000 strokes in Taiwan occurs in patients with AF,” he said.

Cardiac arrhythmia can be controlled and risk of stroke reduced by medications, Taipei Veterans General Hospital attending cardiologist Chang Shih-lin (張世霖) said.

“About one-third of the patients with AF can have their heart rate and rhythm reset to normal by drugs. The other two-thirds, whose symptoms cannot be controlled by antiarrhythmic drugs, still need to take anticlotting drugs to prevent stroke,” Chang Shih-lin said.

“And they have the option to undergo catheter ablation, a procedure that employs heat to destroy the heart tissue that causes AF,” he added.