A heart condition you may not have heard of

May 21, 2019     

What happens when the cardologist becomes the patient? Dr. John Fontaine, professor of medicine in the Cardiology Division at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, once knew a fellow cardiologist who suffered a stroke. Ironically, that cardiologist turned out to have a previously undetected heart condition that he may have helped manage in other patients: atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that increases the risk of stroke.

AFib can present as anything from occasional shortness of breath to dizziness to heart palpitations (though in some cases, patients can also be asymptomatic), and can lead to blood clots, strokes, and more. And for individuals with AFib, there’s a five times greater chance for stroke than those with regular heartbeats.

A 2014 survey conducted by the Heart Rhythm Society and National Stroke Association showed that of 248 AFib patients with no history of stroke, 32 percent could not describe the most common stroke symptoms and 64 percent were aware that AFib is associated with a higher risk of stroke.

As our country’s population ages, the number of cases of AFib is expected to increase. While only about 2 percent of people younger than 65 have AFib, an estimated 9 percent of those over 65 have this condition and in a study, it was projected that AFib would affect approximately 12 million Americans by 2030.

This Stroke Awareness Month, how can both patients and health-care providers be better prepared for that future, with the goal of identifying AFib before stroke occurs?

Select health-care providers, scientists, and advocacy thought leaders discussed this question at an event sponsored and moderated by the BMS-Pfizer Alliance as part of its Matter of Moments initiative. Matter of Moments is a BMS-Pfizer Alliance initiative which aims to elevate awareness of AFib, its connection to stroke and the importance of AFib diagnosis.

The interdisciplinary dialogue discussed three themes:

  • There’s an opportunity to increase general awareness around AFib and its connection to stroke;
  • Education is key to elevating that awareness; and
  • Partnership among the medical and advocacy communities could have a great impact on AFib and stroke risk awareness.

“In my experience, if you ask AFib patients what they think and feel, the number one thing is they feel uninformed,” said Dr. Samuel Sears, professor of psychology and cardiovascular sciences at East Carolina University in Greensville, North Carolina. To help change that, both doctors and patients can continue to be part of broader health-care dialogues to improve disease awareness.

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