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Experts warn 500,000 people undiagnosed with irregular heartbeat

GPs urged to do more to identify atrial fibrillation

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 19 May 2017

Around half a million people in the UK could have a higher risk of stroke due to an undiagnosed irregular heartbeat, according to experts.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has today warned that it has estimated from various sets of data that as many as 500,000 people could be unaware that they have atrial fibrillation (AF).

Existing research suggests that one in six people will develop atrial fibrillation during their lifetime.

Around 1.2m people with AF have been diagnosed but the BHF says there are hundreds of thousands more with the condition which can increase a person's risk of stroke by up to five times if untreated.

The charity carried out an analysis of data from various sources including GPs' quality & outcomes framework prevalence data, health surveys across the UK, Public Health England and the Atrial Fibrillation Association, as well as looking at existing research on this issue.

It estimated that around a third of people with AF were not yet diagnosed despite the cost to peoples' health and a financial cost of more than £2bn each year for the UK economy.

BHF said a number of causes of AF, including high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease and diabetes could easily be detected with pulse checks and other tools available to GPs and patients.

However, research had shown that the majority (54%) of people with AF were not taking medication to reduce their risk of a potentially fatal stroke.

Around 12,000 deaths from AF-related stroke could be prevented every year if patients were managed effectively with medication, said the charity.

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.'

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