Thousands of strokes prevented using ‘clot-busting’ drugs, research suggests
More than a million people in the UK are living with atrial fibrillation, which increases the risk of stroke.
Thousands of strokes have been prevented among people with an irregular heartbeat due to increased use of blood-thinning drugs, research suggests.
Around 1.3 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF), a heart rhythm disorder which heightens the risk of stroke, while a further 500,000 are believed to be unaware they have the condition.
An estimated 4,000 strokes were prevented in England between 2015 and 2016 due to increased use of anticoagulants among patients with the condition, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which part-funded the research, said it was a “major success story” and called for better diagnosis to ensure AF sufferers receive the “clot-busting” drugs.
It’s a truly preventable public health crisis Professor Chris Gale
The number of people with AF being treated with anticoagulants has more than doubled since 2009, researchers from the University of Leeds found.
They estimate that if uptake of the drugs had remained at 2009 levels, there would have been around 4,000 more strokes in England in 2015/16 among patients with the heart condition.
AF, the most common type of irregular heartbeat, can cause blood to gather in the heart and form a blood clot. If this travels to the brain, it can block blood supply and cause a stroke.
Co-author Chris Gale, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Leeds, said sudden strokes in people with AF are “unnecessarily common”.
“The risk of AF rises dramatically with age,” he said.
“Our ageing population makes it clear that without intervention, cases of AF and associated strokes are only going to increase. It’s a truly preventable public health crisis.”
AF increases the risk of stroke by five times compared to those without the condition and contributes to between 20 and 30 per cent of cases, the BHF said.
Treating patients with blood-thinning drugs which slow the formation of clots can cut their risk by two-thirds.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the estimates suggest “a major success story” but added that “much more needs to be done”.
“There are still half a million people in the UK with ‘silent’ AF, who have no idea they’re at risk of having a stroke,” he said.
“Spotting AF can be surprisingly easy; often all it takes is a simple pulse check.
“A normal heart beat will feel regular, but if you find yours is irregular or random, go and see your GP. It could save your life.”