25 May 2012

Why being heartbeat aware can save your life - or your child's

This week is the annual Heart Rhythm Week, aimed at raising awareness for heart rhythm disorders.
This year, it should be even more in people's minds, with the near fatal collapse of footballer Fabrice Muamba and the death of Italian footballer, Piermario Morosini both from cardiac arrest.
These may seem rare, but in the years when I worked for the Heart Rhythm Charity, Arrhythmia Alliance, I can tell you that it's more common than you think.
For Heart Rhythm Week 2012, the charity aims raise awareness among the public of how to recognise the symptoms of a heart rhythm disorder and when they should seek further advice from a healthcare professional.
At least one in four of us will develop a potentially fatal heart rhythm disorder. The most common symptoms are palpitations, feeling faint and shortness of breath. The charity has developed a 'Your Heart in your Hands Checklist’ to help recognise the symptoms. 
The charity also has a campaign to increase the number of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public places. If you saw the distressing scenes of Fabrice Muamba's collapse, you will know that it was only through prompt medical  intervention and the continued use of a defibrillator and CPR that he is alive today to tell the tale. 
I have seen many news reports (and I mean many) of school children collapsing from sudden cardiac arrest. It's not just athletes or at the other end of the scale, the unfit, that are at risk. SCA doesn't care who or what you are or how old you are. 
There are other heart rhythm disorders that are not immediately life threatening in themselves, but can also cause troublesome symptoms such as atrial fibrillation or reflex anoxic seizures. My own younger son had RAS as a toddler which meant he could collapse from an abrupt, but temporary stopping of his heart and breathing. This could happen up to three times a day and it is how I came to be involved with the charity STARS, which is part of Heart Rhythm Week.
We're just now awaiting the results of a 24-hour holter monitor as he has been experiencing dizzy spells and faintness. Because of my knowledge, I was able to convince his paediatrician fairly easily that he needed a cardiology referral. And that, of course, is the key - knowledge.
That's what Arrhythmia Alliance aims to do by its awareness campaign - give people knowledge and empower them to take their heart health into their own hands. It's not something you really want to leave to chance.