The Importance of Screening for Atrial Fibrillation in GP Practices
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common heart rhythm disorder that affects approximately a million people in the UK. While it can often go undetected, the consequences of untreated AF can be severe. This is why it's so important for GP practices to actively screen for AF as highlighted in a recent NHS England news article.
Here are the reasons why AF screening in primary care is so important:
Early Detection Saves Lives
According to the European Society of Cardiology, the lifetime risk of AF is in the region of 1 in 3. AF is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular complications. The sooner AF is identified, the sooner patients can receive medication to reduce the likelihood of a stroke and other potentially fatal conditions. Detecting AF early saves lives.
Half of AF-related strokes occur in patients with undiagnosed AF. One of the most important reasons for AF screening, therefore, is the prevention of strokes. AF can increase an individual’s risk of stroke by a factor of 5. AF strokes are usually more devastating than non-AF strokes and are associated with much higher mortality, morbidity and disability. By detecting AF, GPs can initiate anticoagulant therapy to reduce the risk of stroke. This is a crucial step in preventing the devastating consequences of AF.
Targeted Risk Assessment
The chances of having AF increase as we age. Approximately 7% of people over the age of 65 have AF. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure, pneumonia, an overactive thyroid, alcohol or drug misuse. Identifying patients with these risk factors allows for the targeted screening for AF. Regular monitoring and lifestyle modifications can significantly benefit these patients.
Many individuals with AF are either asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms. By actively screening for AF, GPs can diagnose cases that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. This enables early intervention and symptom management, improving the patient's overall quality of life.
Public Health Impact
Widespread screening for AF can have a substantial positive impact on public health, by reducing the overall burden of stroke and cardiovascular disease. It contributes to healthier communities and improved quality of life for a large number of people. Identifying AF in primary care settings can also help healthcare resources to be allocated more efficiently. It can reduce the burden on emergency services and decrease costly hospital admissions for AF-related complications.
Screening for atrial fibrillation in GP practices is a crucial part of preventive healthcare. It enables early detection, stroke prevention, targeted risk assessment, and effective symptom management. Furthermore, it contributes to reducing healthcare costs and has a significant impact on public health. By actively screening for AF, GP practices can help patients lead healthier, longer lives while mitigating the risks associated with this prevalent heart condition.
AF Screening Device - MyDiagnostick
MyDiagnostick is a screening tool that detects patients with AF. It is very quick and easy to use. The patient simply holds the metal handles at either end of the device which automatically switches it on, starting the recording of an ECG whilst analysing the heart rhythm. After only one minute the device displays either a green tick for a normal ECG, or a red cross if AF is detected. ECG traces can be downloaded to the MyDiagnostick Management Studio software and PDF ECG reports created if required.