What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a type of cardiac arrhythmia, and it affects over 1 million people in the UK. People with AF have an irregular and uncoordinated heartbeat, which is caused by a disruption to the electrical signal controlling the heart. Those affected, may experience distressing symptoms such as palpitations, tiredness and shortness of breath. Others may experience little to no symptoms at all. Atrial fibrillation can affect people of any age, although it is particularly common in older age people. Untreated or inappropriately managed AF can have life threatening consequences. It can make the heart less efficient at pumping blood around the body causing blood to pool and potentially clot, which means people affected can be more vulnerable to strokes.
Warfarin has been proven to reduce the risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation patients by nearly two thirds. But, if you are taking warfarin on a long-term basis, you must monitor the time it takes your blood to clot by testing your International Normalised Ratio (INR).
INR tests are usually performed at a hospital or GP surgery, which can mean regular time away from work or whatever else you’d rather be doing with your life. It can also put limitations on the amount of time spent away travelling. A possible alternative, recommended by NHS regulator the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), is to self-monitor your INR, providing you are able to do so and there is appropriate healthcare support in place.1
Self-monitoring frees you from regular trips to your GP or hospital. This saves you from the inconvenience and expense of travelling to appointments, and means you won’t have to wait for tests.
Self-monitoring is the collective term used to describe both self-testing and self-management. Self-testing is when you test a small drop of blood from your finger with the CoaguChek meter, and then tell your healthcare professional your results so that they can advise you and adjust your warfarin dose accordingly.
Self-management is when your healthcare professional has given you training and an agreed protocol to follow, so that you can adjust your own warfarin dose after testing with the CoaguChek meter.
While many people find self-monitoring more convenient, it isn’t for everyone. You will need to get a better understanding of your treatment, and commit to sticking to the plan you make with your healthcare professional.
There’s no upper age limit for self-monitoring, although there are some minimum requirements. To be eligible you must:
- Be prescribed long-term warfarin (If you take a different anticoagulation drug, please contact the Care Line Team to see if this is compatible with using a CoaguChek meter)
- Want to be more active in looking after your own health
- Have reasonable eyesight and dexterity
- Have the support of your healthcare professional
You can buy meters and test strips online, or you can call our freephone Care Line on 0808 100 7666. Different payment options may be available to you, including a VAT-free price for those already taking long-term warfarin, and an interest-free payment plan to help spread the cost.
You will need CoaguChek test strips to use your meter. These are available on prescription but this is subject to your GP’s discretion and prescription charges may apply. Alternatively, you can purchase direct via the Care Line team or online. As with any decision about your health, it’s best to explore your options with your healthcare professional before self-monitoring.
1NICE Diagnostics guidance [DG14]. September 2014