New Research Identifies Atrial Fibrillation Risk Factors and Offers Hope for Prevention
In a groundbreaking development, a team of researchers at the University of East Anglia has unveiled a revolutionary tool aimed at reducing the risk of strokes caused by atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib, an irregular heartbeat condition, may not be immediately life-threatening, but it significantly increases the risk of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) and strokes by up to five times. This promising breakthrough is set to transform the way healthcare professionals identify and treat high-risk patients, potentially saving countless lives.
The research, which was published on August 27 in the prestigious European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, identified four key factors that serve as predictive indicators for AFib. These factors include advanced age, elevated diastolic blood pressure, and abnormalities in both the coordination and function of the upper left chamber of the heart. Armed with this knowledge, the research team has crafted a user-friendly tool for medical practitioners to identify individuals at a higher risk of AFib, ultimately leading to more accurate diagnoses and targeted treatments to mitigate stroke risk.
Lead researcher Professor Vassilios Vassiliou, hailing from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and serving as an Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, emphasized the importance of early identification. “Identifying who is at high risk and more likely to develop atrial fibrillation is very important,” said Prof. Vassiliou. “This is because it requires specific treatment with anticoagulants, commonly known as blood thinners, to reduce the risk of future strokes.”
Traditionally, patients who have experienced a stroke undergo extensive investigations to pinpoint its cause, which significantly influences their long-term treatment plan. These investigations often involve prolonged heart rhythm monitoring using implantable devices known as loop recorders and echocardiograms to assess heart function.
Research team collected data
The research team collected data from 323 patients across the East of England, treated at Cambridge University Hospital, who had suffered a stroke with an unidentified cause—referred to as “Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source.” By meticulously analyzing medical records and data from extended heart rhythm monitoring and echocardiograms, the researchers were able to identify the four key parameters consistently linked to AFib development.
Prof. Vassiliou elaborated on the significance of their findings: “We developed a model that can be used to predict who will develop atrial fibrillation in the next three years, and is therefore at increased risk of another stroke in the future.” This predictive model, described as “very easy” to use in clinical practice, holds the potential to transform the way medical practitioners identify and treat high-risk patients.
The implications of this research are profound. By identifying individuals at greater risk of AFib, medical professionals can implement more targeted and effective treatments, including prolonged heart rhythm monitoring and early anticoagulation, significantly reducing the likelihood of future strokes.
This collaborative research effort was led by the University of East Anglia in conjunction with Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, West Suffolk Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Cambridge, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and the University of Newcastle. The research was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology and was simultaneously presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference held in Amsterdam from August 25 to 28. This innovative tool promises to revolutionize stroke prevention and enhance the quality of care for patients at risk of atrial fibrillation.