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doctor checks pulse via Shutterstock

Over 40,000 people in Ireland have a dangerous heart rhythm disorder they don't know about

Only 2 per cent of us believe Atrial Fibrillation is a serious condition, yet it’s responsible for about 30 per cent of strokes.

EVER HEARD OF Atrial Fibrillation? Well, you’re in good company. Three-quarters of us haven’t, according to the Irish Heart Foundation.

The condition is the most common form of heart rhythm disorder, according to the IHF, and the charity’s secured the services of former Munster and Ireland rugby stalwart Frankie Sheahan to help educate the public on the risks associated with it.

The disorder usually has no symptoms, so most people don’t know they have it. However, warning signs can include palpitations, tiredness and shortness of breath. It’s more common as people get older, and it’s estimated more than 40,000 people over 50 years old in Ireland suffer from it; most are unaware.

Diagnosed at the age of 30, Sheahan’s sporting career was thriving until he started having difficulty breathing and feeling like his heart was fluttering.

“I could feel my heart pounding and it was hard to get my breath but my immediate thought was, it will pass so get on with it,” the former hooker said.

“I didn’t want anything to interrupt my rugby career so I was very secretive about it despite having a lot of anxiety about it.”

He says the condition got worse over the next few years “as did my performances,” and after he sustained a serious neck injury at around the same time, Sheahan decided something had to change.

“Dr Gerry Fahy subsequently did a very successful ablation procedure and in hindsight, I wish I’d spoken out about my heart sooner because after the operation, I was better than ever before.”

The IHF launched a new radio awareness campaign yesterday to stress the importance of regular pulse checks to detect the condition, which causes around one in three strokes in Ireland.

The charity’s also providing a step-by-step guide for adults on how to take their own pulse at its website.

According to IHF Medical Director Dr Angie Brown “The recommended normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 heartbeats per minute but some people can have heart rates over 100″.

“You should see your doctor if you have a persistent heart rate above 120 beats per minute or below 40 beats per minute.”

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Related: What overeating does to your body

Read: Frankie Sheahan column: stop blaming the ref

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