heart rhythm Survey findings show that 97% of European cardiologists believe that non-valvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) patients experience a delay in diagnosis, which is associated with a higher risk of stroke.

Sponsored by Daiichi Sankyo in partnership with the Heart Rhythm Society, the European survey results were announced during Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Aware Week. It reveals the importance of patients recognising the signs and symptoms of stroke. An acute stroke is a common first sign of AF and over half of European cardiologists (56%) believe that education is the most important type of support an NVAF patient can receive. 

Conducted online by Harris Poll in July and August 2014, the survey involved 1,100 cardiologists from seven countries, including France, Germany, Spain and the UK within Europe. The global results were announced at the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) 2014 for the first time.

The primary reason identified by cardiologists for the potential delay in diagnosis was that patients do not seek treatment because they are asymptomatic (cited by 83% of cardiologists in Europe). Low patient and physician awareness of NVAF and confusion about the different types of NVAF (paroxysmal, persistent, long-standing persistent and permanent) and how they can be diagnosed, were also attributed to the delay. 

AF patients have a five-fold increased risk of stroke compared to the general population. AF-related strokes have been found to be nearly twice as likely to be fatal as strokes in patients without AF. There is also a poorer prognosis, with an almost 50% increased probability of remaining disabled.

Professor A. John Camm, Professor of Clinical Cardiology at St Georges University of London and Fellow of the Heart Rhythm Society, said: “It is important to note that while cardiologists are recognizing the individual nature of patients and delivering bespoke treatment plans according to their needs, it is taking too long for patients to reach this diagnosis. This means that patients are not receiving important treatment soon enough and are being put at an increased risk of other complications such as stroke, with potentially fatal implications.”

Identifying the broad spectrum of people diagnosed with and treated for NVAF, the survey reveals that half of European cardiologists (50%) believe there is no such thing as a typical NVAF patient. Over three-quarters of respondents (86%), recognize the diversity of patients, reinforcing the need to focus on individual patient characteristics and their co-morbidities to provide the appropriate disease management. On average cardiologists in Europe reported that their NVAF patients have about three comorbid conditions. One such co-morbidity, stroke, is a significant concern and one in five are as a result of AF.

It was revealed that when choosing a treatment for stroke prevention, multiple factors are important or very important to cardiologists, including patient risk of bleeding (95%), patient compliance (90%), patient relevant co-morbid conditions (85%) and patient preferences (52%). Significantly, over two thirds of cardiologists (68%) noted that a high bleeding risk is a reason why some patients do not receive any oral anticoagulation therapy for stroke prevention.

Nearly nine out of ten cardiologists (87%) agreed that patients need better education regarding the stroke risks associated with NVAF. The majority of cardiologists reported that in addition to managing the medical aspects of their NVAF patients’ condition, they also ensure that their patients understand their diagnosis (81%) and the importance of taking their medication regularly (89%).