Thousands of undiagnosed AF patients at risk of stroke

UP to a half million people in the UK could be unaware that they have atrial fibrillation (AF), which dramatically increases risk of stroke, according to new estimates released by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Around 1.2 million people have been diagnosed with AF in the UK, but the BHF says hundreds of thousands more will have the condition which can increase the risk of stroke by five times if untreated. It is estimated that one in six people will develop AF during their lifetime and a third of people with the condition have yet to be diagnosed.

AF can easily be detected with pulse checks and other tools available to patients and GPs. The most common presenting symptoms are palpitations, breathlessness and dizziness, although as many as 25-30 per cent do not have symptoms.

It is estimated that 12,000 deaths from AF-related stroke could be prevented every year if patients were managed effectively with medication but research has shown that the majority (54 per cent) of people with the condition are not taking medication to reduce their risk of a potentially fatal stroke.

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “Thousands of people with atrial fibrillation are needlessly dying of stroke every year because they are not being identified, and adequately managed.

“We need to detect people with an irregular heartbeat and then ensure they are getting the right care and treatment to reduce their risk of having a stroke.”

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