Poor treatment of abnormal heart rhythm puts patients' lives at risk

A new campaign calls for urgent action to improve patients' health and reduce costs to National Health systems. A report[1] published today by the AF AWARE partnership warns that the lives of thousands of patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) could be at risk due to poor diagnosis, failure to follow treatment guidelines and lack of quality information for patients suffering from this debilitating heart condition.

The report argues that poor diagnosis and treatment of AF may lead to increased risk of hospitalization, stroke and other cardiovascular complications, as well as to unnecessary costs to individuals and to healthcare systems in Europe. These findings come at a time when experts are meeting in London to exchange insights about the effective management of AF, at the EuropeAF conference. The findings have prompted an urgent call from the AF AWARE partnership for European-wide improvements.

Six million people across Europe are affected by AF[1], making it the most common cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm). While common symptoms include palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness, some patients with AF experience no symptoms. AF increases a person's risk of stroke by four to five fold.[2]

"AF is a serious, progressive and chronic disease, which can have devastating consequences on patients and healthcare systems" said Professor Günter Breithardt, spokesperson for the World Heart Federation. "This report highlights missed opportunities to manage AF more effectively, saving costs to European healthcare systems and most importantly, saving patients' lives."

The report reveals inconsistencies in adherence to treatment guidelines, inadequate patient resources, and a lack of country-level estimates of AF incidence and prevalence, which raises concerns that AF may be vastly underdiagnosed. This may hinder effective planning within national healthcare systems.

What is Atrial Fibrillation (AF)?

AF results from abnormal electrical activity in the upper chambers of the heart (atria), leading to an irregular heart rhythm which prevents the blood from efficiently being pumped toward the rest of the body. Common symptoms of AF include palpitations (a rapid, irregular, "flopping" movement or pounding sensation in the chest), shortness of breath, dizziness and feeling of heaviness in the chest. Age, obesity, hypertension, myocardial infarction (MI), congestive heart failure (CHF) and valvular heart diseases put patients at increased risk of developing AF and AF itself worsens the prognosis of patients with risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as stroke or myocardial infarction.

An abbreviation for atrial fibrillation Full medical glossary
Any form of disturbance to the heart's normal regular beat Full medical glossary
The two upper chambers of the heart. Full medical glossary
A common abnormal heart rhythm causing a rapid, irregular pulse and failure of the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to pump properly. Abbreviated to AF. Full medical glossary
A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
Relating to the heart Full medical glossary
Disease of the heart and blood vessels, usually due to atherosclerosis. Full medical glossary
A disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. Full medical glossary
A condition that is linked to, or is a consequence of, another disease or procedure. Full medical glossary
The process of determining which condition a patient may have. Full medical glossary
Abnormally fast and uneven contractions of the heart muscle, so that blood cannot be pumped efficiently Full medical glossary
Failure of the heart to pump adequately. Full medical glossary
High blood pressure. Full medical glossary
The number of new episodes of a condition arising in a certain group of people over a specified period of time. Full medical glossary
Death of a piece of tissue owing to obstruction of its blood supply. Full medical glossary
Death of a portion of tissue due to inadequate blood supply Full medical glossary
Myocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply. Full medical glossary
Death of an area of heart muscle due to poor blood supply. This is commonly known as a heart attack. Full medical glossary
Excess accumulation of fat in the body. Full medical glossary
The feeling when you become aware of your heartbeat - when frightened, for example. Full medical glossary
An assessment of the likely progress of a condition. Full medical glossary
Continuously increasing in extent or severity. Full medical glossary
One of a class of drugs that inhibit cholesterol formation in the liver. Full medical glossary
Any sudden neurological problem caused by a bleed or a clot in a blood vessel. Full medical glossary
Relating to blood vessels. Full medical glossary