You could save a life by simply checking a pulse. That’s the message from NHS Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) as it launches the PACT campaign to encourage people to check their pulse once a year. As well as checking your own pulse, think about checking that of loved ones as well, says GP Dr Peter Green, NHS Medway CCG’s Chief Clinical Officer. A good tip is to pick a month – perhaps the month before a birthday – and check it every year during that month. By checking your pulse you may be able to pick up heart rhythm disorders that can cause strokes.

Dr Green says: “Heart rhythm disorders are more common as people get older, so it’s really important that people think of loved ones as well as themselves. Checking a pulse is easy to do and picking the month before a birthday means a birthday isn’t spoilt by a health check.” The PACT campaign aims to encourage people to make a pact with themselves to check their pulse and that of loved ones.

PACT stands for:
Pulse: check your pulse once a year. It should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Arrythmia: an irregular pulse. Call your GP or nurse if yours is too fast or too slow.
Consult: tell your GP or nurse if your pulse is irregular and they may refer you to check your heart rhythm is okay.

Take care of your health: about one in five strokes are due to atrial fibrillation (AF), of which three quarters may be prevented by knowing your pulse.
Pauline Rouse, heart failure specialist nurse at Medway Community Healthcare, says: “Checking your pulse in either your wrist or neck for one minute is a quick and easy way to measure your heart rate. When resting, your normal rate should feel regular and beat between 60 and 100 times a minute. If you are concerned about your heart rate contact your GP.

“People with atrial fibrillation will often feel dizzy or tired and have shortness of breath, but not everyone experiences symptoms. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to a stroke so it is vital to check your pulse regularly.”

To feel your pulse, place your index and middle finger on the side of your neck, in the hollow between the windpipe and the larger muscle in the neck. Lightly press until you feel a pulse. Count the number of beats you feel for one full minute. This is the number of times your heart is beating.

Dr Peter Green, who practices as a GP in Cliffe Woods, says: “Knowing how to check your pulse will help you understand what an irregular heart rhythm could feel like. It takes one minute and could pick up undiagnosed heart conditions including atrial fibrillation.

“You should make a PACT to check your pulse once a year if you’re older than 65 or feel faint or lightheaded. A normal pulse should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Please call your GP or nurse if yours is too fast or too slow and, like John King, you may be referred to check your heart rhythm is okay.” You can learn more about PACT and how to check your pulse by visiting http://www.medwayccg.nhs.uk or downloading the Arrhythmia Alliance’s free pulse check app to your smart phone at http://www.arrhythmiaalliance.org.uk

John King from Medway wasn’t worried about his health when he went for a routine health check. But as a nurse took his pulse, she noticed it was erratic, and told him to have an ECG. “I’m not the kind of man who worries about my health,” says John, 86.
“I said that I didn’t want any fuss and I wasn’t going to go, but the nurse told me that I may be at risk of a stroke and I needed to have my heart checked. My brother had a stroke and I know how devastating they can be. I definitely didn’t want to have one, so I decided to go that day to have my heart tested.”

An ECG – or electrocardiogram – is a simple and painless test that records the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart. A nurse placed small sticky patches called electrodes on his arms, legs and chest, which were connected to an ECG recording machine which picks up the electrical signals that make the heartbeat. The test took about 20 minutes.

John was referred to the community cardiology team at the Rochester Healthy Living Centre, where a specialist heart nurse continued to monitor the former Spitfire mechanic’s health until she was satisfied with his progress. John says: “I was taught how to check my pulse. It’s a really simple thing to do and something everyone should be aware of.” Atrial fibrillation is more common in people older than 55, but it can affect adults of any age.

Drinking alcohol, excess caffeine and smoking also increase your chances of developing an irregular heart rate. It is caused when the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, contract randomly and sometimes so fast that the heart muscle cannot relax properly.
This reduces the heart’s efficiency and performance. It can lead to dizziness, shortness of breath and even dangerous blood clots, the cause of 16,000 strokes a year in the UK.

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