Should you get tested? Free app calculates your risk of common heart problem

Sep 21, 2020
It's important to keep your heart in tip-top shape as well. Source: Getty.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should be tested for atrial fibrillation (AF) — a condition where the heart beats irregularly or rapidly — now’s your chance. As part of AF Awareness Week, which runs from September 21-27, charity organisation Hearts4Heart has launched a new smartphone app Feel The Beat that can check your heart rate and calculate your risk of AF for free.

More than 470,000 Australians currently live with AF, which can increase your chances of stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and lung cancer. AF occurs when there’s a disturbance in the heart’s electrical system. This causes the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to beat rapidly and out of rhythm with the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). This means the heart doesn’t work as well, and blood is not pumped properly through the body. This can weaken the heart and, over time, lead to heart failure.

While many people with AF have no symptoms, others may experience a racing heart, thumping or butterfly sensations in the heart and chest, chest pain or discomfort, fatigue, tiredness, loss of breath or dizziness.

Hearts4Heart CEO Tanya Hall, an AF patient herself, said the new app is a great way for people at home to go for a check-up, especially if they’ve put off testing due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The pressures of the global pandemic mean that on-site testing isn’t possible,” she said. “By creating the app we hope we can raise awareness about the dangers of undetected AF and get people checking their heart rate and speaking to their doctor about an irregular heartbeat.

Hall went on to explain that when left untreated, an irregular heartbeat can cause blood to pool in the chamber of the heart and form a clot that can travel to the brain, causing a stroke.

“Approximately 6,000 atrial fibrillation-related strokes occur each year, but they can be prevented, and diagnosis is the first critical step,” she said. “We don’t want a stroke to be the first time any Australian discovers they have an irregular heartbeat.”

And if you’re wondering how the app works, according to Hall it’s relatively easy to use.

“After a few questions to assess your risk profile, it’s easy to check your pulse and heart rate by putting your finger over your camera phone lens,” she said, adding while the app can predict whether you’re at risk of AF, it’s still super important to get checked by a doctor as well.

“People with atrial fibrillation may not experience any obvious symptoms so it’s vital to see a doctor regularly for a thorough heart health assessment,” she explained. “We know the prevalence of AF increases with age, so people aged over 65 years or with existing heart conditions are encouraged to do routine heart rate checks.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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What are your thoughts on this? When was the last time you went for a heart check-up?

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