Research leader recognised internationally for life-saving work

Dr Ben Freedman has been acknowledged at the Heart Rhythm Congress in the UK with an Award for Outstanding Individual who has contributed to Arrhythmia Services 2016.

The award comes in recognition of his global push to introduce screening for the common heart condition, atrial fibrillation (AF), which triggers catastrophic strokes, as well as in recognition of his research and publications on AF screening.

Dr Freedman is the Deputy Director of Research and Strategy at the Heart Research Institute and Charles Perkins Centre, and honorary professor of cardiology at the University of Sydney. He is also co-founder of the AF-SCREEN International Collaboration, a group made up physicians, nurses, allied health workers, public health experts, health economists and patient support groups from 31 countries, which will soon issue a white paper with recommendations about screening for AF as a way to prevent stroke.

Dr Freedman feels the award will be helpful to further the cause of screening. “It is a palpable sign that physicians, researchers and patients can combine forces to make changes in policy that might reduce the global burden of stroke," he says. 

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.

Approximately 10% of all strokes are related to AF that was undetected and completely silent before the stroke.

“Given AF is linked to the most severe, catastrophic strokes, this simple approach would spare families a lot of pain, frustration and heartache,” says Dr Freedman.

While the AF-stroke link has been known in medical circles for some time, Dr Freedman says there’s growing impetus to do something about it. And with the help of novel high-tech tools like smartphone ECGs, a fast, low-cost diagnosis is now possible.

With work by AF-SCREEN International Collaboration, an effective screening program could be in place by 2020 in many countries including Australia.

Dr Freedman says people can take action in the meantime.

“If you are aged 65 years or over, then you can see your doctor to check your pulse, or check your own at home to see if it’s regular like a clock."

"If it’s irregular you can have an ECG and get the condition managed. It’s a decision that could save your life.”

Heart Rhythm Congress is the largest heart rhythm event in the UK, providing an unrivalled opportunity for health care professionals interested in the management of arrhythmias to share effective practice, show case innovation, learn about latest developments and network with UK and international delegates. It is unique among heart conferences , in having a whole day devoted to meetings in which  both patients and doctors attend.

A  research review, “Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation”, co-authored by Drs Freedman, Potpara and Lip, was recently published in prestigious medical journal, The Lancet with an accompanying editorial entitled “AF and stroke: unrecognised and undertreated”. The editor agreed with the importance of implementing screening for AF as a strategy to prevent stroke.

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