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Nearly five thousand patients at risk of stroke in East Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen

A collaborative educational event supported by NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, NHSBlackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Group and East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust was hosted for GPs and primary care prescribers to learn about how GPs can prevent strokes better.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.  It is also a significant risk factor for stroke and early detection of AF may help to identify patients in need of treatment, but almost a third of people with AF are undiagnosed. This means they are untreated and at a high risk of premature death and disability. Whilst 1.4 million people in England are estimated to have atrial fibrillation (2.4% of the adult population), it is predicted there are 3,374 people in East Lancashire undiagnosed and 1,344 in Blackburn with Darwen.

Dr Nick Roberts, Clinical Director of Medicine for the Elderly at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “By increasing anticoagulation rates for patients in atrial fibrillation we can prevent more strokes in Pennine Lancashire.

Stroke rates are declining due to better anticoagulation of non valvular atrial fibrillation; warfarin (a type of anticoagulation medicine) decreases stroke by 67% and death by 24%.”

The risk of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age; it is significantly higher in people over 65, and with other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and underlying heart disease, and with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Some people may not even know they have the condition whilst others with atrial fibrillation may experience various symptoms including:

  • Irregular and fast heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations or a rapid thumping in their chest
  • Chest discomfort, chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath, particularly with exertion or anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness, sweating or nausea
  • Light-headedness or fainting

Dr Umesh Chauhan, Cardiovascular Disease, Research and Development Lead at NHS East LancashireCCG, said: “It is clear that improving identification of people with atrial fibrillation and responding better with the right medication could prevent hundreds of strokes in the area each year.  Stroke management and stroke prevention are major priority areas and challenges for the area and the NHS as a whole.

Education events such as these today are vitally important in learning not only from our secondary care (hospital) specialists, but each other in primary care.  As well as updates on current guidelines and management, our focused workshops were aimed at exploring potential ways to improve atrial fibrillation detection in different health care settings and develop pathways for improving management.”