Heart screen could save hundreds from stroke suffering

Research Updates
Hundreds of New Zealanders could be spared from stroke each year if people with an irregular heart beat had their condition treated.

The Heart Research Institute is leading a global push to introduce screening for the common heart condition, atrial fibrillation, which triggers catastrophic strokes.

Cardiologist and heart authority Dr Ben Freedman makes the case for routine testing of all older Kiwis to ensure everyone with this heart condition is treated.

“We’ve estimated that by screening 75 per cent of people aged over 65 and getting 80 per cent with atrial fibrillation (AF) on to medication, we’ll be preventing more than 250 strokes every year,” Dr Freedman says. “Given AF is linked to the most severe, catastrophic strokes, this simple approach would spare families a lot of pain, frustration and heartache.”

Every day, about 24 New Zealanders have stroke. Three-quarters occur in people over 65.

Strokes from AF are larger, more severe and harder to survive than other strokes because they are caused by clots that form inside the heart and break off. “The clots end up in a brain artery causing a ‘brain attack’ or stroke, that might be preventable if we could detect AF and give drugs, which prevent clots,” he explains.

A screening program would ensure those with silent AF get a diagnosis and manage their stroke risk even when their heart condition carries no symptoms.

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