GPs preventing thousands of strokes every year

12 July 2018 08:15

GPs are helping to prevent thousands of strokes every year

GPs are helping to prevent thousands of strokes every year

British GPs have prevented thousands of strokes after learning how to better identify and treat a common heart condition, research has shown.

The study, by experts at the University of Birmingham, estimates that practitioners are preventing around 7,000 strokes every year thanks to having a better understanding of a condition called atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation affects around a million people in the UK and can lead to a five-fold increase in the risk of suffering a stroke.

But treatment of the condition with drugs that prevent clotting of the blood, known as anticoagulants, can dramatically cut this risk.

Irregular heartbeat

The research investigated the number of cases of the condition, which causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate, identified by UK GP surgeries between 2000 and 2016.

The study, published in the journal Heart, examined data on more than five million patients.

Among patients over the age of 35, the authors found that the rate of people with the condition increased from 2.14% in 2000, to 3.29% in 2016.

During the same timeframe, the proportion of patients with atrial fibrillation who were prescribed anticoagulants increased from 35.4% to 75.5% among those with high stroke risk.

Overall, they concluded that between 2000 and 2016 the prevalence of recorded cases increased and anticoagulant treatment of eligible patients with atrial fibrillation has more than doubled, alongside a reduction in the use of anticoagulants in ineligible patients with the condition.

Success story

Author Dr Nicola Adderley said: "GPs have become markedly better at not only identifying patients with atrial fibrillation, but also at treating these patients.

"Furthermore, over the same period, general practitioners also seem to have got better at selecting who should get anticoagulants.

"The drugs are not recommended for a small minority of younger people with atrial fibrillation whose overall risk of stroke is low and prescribing fell from 20% to 10% in this group."

Senior and corresponding author Professor Tom Marshall said: "This is a success story for NHS general practice.

"Atrial fibrillation causes about 20,000 strokes each year but general practice is preventing about 7,000."

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