Atrial fibrillation: The most understated disease of our time?

  • Posted on 19.02.2019

Atrial fibrillation: The most understated disease of our time?


Gabriele Fischetto

Vice President Cardiovascular & Specialty Solutions, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices EMEA


In 2019, and in every corner of the world, pressing issues affect patients and their way of life. Consequently, this impacts upon their loved ones and personal, professional and social communities. There are conditions and diseases that receive a lot of attention and are broadly recognised and there are those that don’t.

Atrial fibrillation (AF,) unfortunately, falls into the latter category and although it is the most common heart arrhythmia – affecting one in four of us over 40 years of age – there is a general misconception about AF amongst the general public. In fact, 45% of people incorrectly believing that AF is not a life-threatening condition.

Our recent report, The Burden of Atrial Fibrillation: Understanding the Impact of the New Millennium Epidemic across Europe, aims to renew focus on this health topic and to protect more lives from this growing disease. 

AF is an irregular and, often, fast heart rhythm that results in the uncoordinated contraction of the top two chambers of the heart. This can cause blood clots leading patients to suffer AF-related strokes. AF sufferers are five times more likely to experience heart failure, 2.4 times more likely to experience a stroke and twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

What worries me is that AF is one of the world’s most understated significant health issues. Estimates suggest that AF is responsible for up to 2.6% of total annual healthcare expenditure in European countries.

Eleven million people across Europe are suffering from AF, with the disease being almost as common as stroke and cancer. Ageing will lead to more cases of AF.

We believe that there needs to be greater awareness of AF and more done to detect the disease earlier in patients. This would potentially reduce the chance of complications and the burden on patients who develop serious long-term health conditions associated with AF.

The disease is extremely progressive with one in five patients progressing from paroxysmal (intermittent) AF to persistent (constant) within a year.Many patients are undiagnosed and/or experience late referrals and it is thought that this, the lack of awareness about the disease, is a contributing factor.   

Alarmingly, there is not just a lack of awareness of AF itself but also its treatment options. Almost half (48%) of patients are not well managed with antiarrhythmic drugs alone, with only 4% of eligible patients receiving ablation treatment.

We will continue to participate in initiatives alongside the AF community to increase awareness of the new millennium epidemic and we hope that this report will further contribute towards a movement for better knowledge and action around AF. By working together to tackle this challenge head on, we can heal more hearts.

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