Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This blog was first published on November 26, 2017.
Take your pulse. Do you know how? Could we learn from watching Law & Order on TV as detectives quickly check a body for a pulse? That’s tricky.
The question I get from readers or fellow A-Fib patients is, “How do you know if you’re in it?”
You don’t always, according to my doctors and from my own personal experiences. The first time I recognized what was known as ‘irregular heartbeat’ was when a fitness instructor told my class to cool down with a moderate walk while taking the pulse. I couldn’t find mine. When I did, it felt like a bird fluttering its wings. I was 43 years old. It was 1980. I was too young and full of energy to worry about it and didn’t think about it for a few years when it became noticeable.
I was lucky. It could have resulted in a stroke. Instead I got treatment from a cardiologist and later an electrophysiologist. That journey is documented in my memoir, IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.
My mother taught me how to take my pulse when I was a child. She was a nurses’ aide at a blood mobile during World War Two. More recently I’ve discovered that many people don’t know how to take their pulse, including a worker at an assisted living facility where I was giving a talk about my book.
The pulse can be checked at several places in your body. For me, it’s easiest to check at my wrist under the thumb by placing 2 fingers of the opposite hand between the bone and the tendon on the thumb side of the inside wrist. Never use your thumb because it has its own pulse that may interfere.
Other places for checking pulse and rhythms are high up on the neck between the neck and the ear (this is called the carotid pulse) and more difficult body parts such as top of the foot, the groin or behind the knee.
When you find your pulse, check the rhythm by counting the beats in a minute, so you need a watch or clock with a second hand. You can count the beats in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 or take it for a full 60 seconds.
If you want further proof that you have bouts of A-Fib, or for some who are in A-Fib all of the time and don’t feel it, discuss installing a ‘loop’ with your doctor. My guest blogger, Lisa Eliason, wrote a blog about the loop on this website a few weeks ago.
The most reliable way to check is still the EKG, which is usually available in a clinic or physician’s office.
I had atrial fib for more than 35 years. Now I don’t, but that doesn’t mean it won’t appear again. It started out slowly for me. It got worse as time went on. I check my pulse twice every day. Get treatment. It’s so much easier than dealing with a stroke.