Can earlier treatment of an abnormal heart rhythm disorder prevent strokes?

10 June 2015        

Gillian Grey relfections of research image

A clinical trial discussed today at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference – an annual conference in which many leading scientists discuss their most exciting research – is hoping to find out if early treatment to control abnormal heart rhythms can prevent strokes in atrial fibrillation patients.

An abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, means that your heart is beating too fast, too slow, or with an irregular pattern. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common abnormal heart rhythm disorder, which affects over one million people in the UK, and increases the risk of stroke by 4 or 5 times. 

In AF the irregular heartbeat can cause blood to pool and clot in the heart. If this clot escapes and is swept up into the brain, it can cause a stroke. It is estimated

1.1 million people in the UK are living with atrial fibrillation

Dr Mike Knapton
Associate Medical Director

that AF causes a fifth of the 235,000 strokes which happen in the UK every year. Strokes caused by AF are the most severe and are associated with even higher disability and death rates. These strokes have a 50 per cent likelihood of death within one year. 

New research

Previously, scientists have shown that atrial fibrillation causes damaging changes to the atria – two of the four chambers in the heart – which may still be reversible during early stages of the arrhythmia. 

The EAST clinical trial – led by BHF Senior Research Fellow, Professor Paulus Kirchhof – will be putting this theory to the test by seeing whether using early treatment to restore and maintain normal rhythm in AF patients can reduce cardiovascular complications, such as strokes, by reversing the damaging effects that the condition has on the heart. 

What this could mean for people with AF

Dr Mike Knapton, our Associate Medical Director said:

“We know that 1.1 million people in the UK are living with atrial fibrillation, putting many people at risk of strokes and the life-changing disabling consequences they can have.

“Upon completion this clinical trial may offer hope to people with newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation – changing and improving the way we treat patients early on to restore and control the heart rhythm and reduce the high risk of stroke associated with the condition.”

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