According to new research from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 250,000 Canadians currently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) are at least five times more at risk to have a stroke and twice as likely to die from one. More worrisome is that the vast majority may not be aware of their stroke risk.
"Complicating matters, many Canadians are not being properly treated for the condition in the first place," said Paul Dorian, MD, a cardiology and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "Up to 15 percent of strokes are caused by AF. In people over the age of 60, that number increases to about one-third of strokes."
"Stroke places a tremendous burden on our society. When AF patients have a stroke, the impact becomes even more profound," said Marco Di Buono, MD, director of research at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario. "These patients are reported to stay in hospital longer, have increased disability, and are more likely to have recurrent strokes."
"The most important medical advance in the past decade is the effectiveness of blood thinners in managing AF and the risk of having a stroke," Dorian said. "Yet, it is extremely disturbing that only a small percentage of at-risk patients are actually prescribed these life saving treatments."
"Clinical guidelines are in place but there is a need for healthcare practitioners to be aware of the condition's risks and put the treatment options into practice," Di Buono said. "Further, people with AF should talk to their healthcare providers about their stroke risk and what they can do about it."
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, a growing body of evidence suggests that AF patients can be better categorized based on their risk for developing stroke as a means of identifying the appropriate therapy. For example, the elderly, those with a previous stroke or TIA and patients with high blood pressure or diabetes are all at a greater risk of suffering from a stroke after being diagnosed with AF. The Foundation recommended using the CHAD2 Index tool, which is commonly used by providers, to determine stroke risk.
“Bottom line - stroke is a medical emergency and we know the AF patient is at increased risk of stroke," Dorian said. “All Canadians, AF patients especially, should know how to recognize and react to stroke warning signs if needed.”