Background and study aims
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition that causes an irregular heartbeat. It affects up to 10 in 100 people over the age of 65. AF greatly increases the risk of stroke and people with AF are five times more likely to have a stroke compared to people without AF. AF-related strokes are more severe, disabling and fatal than strokes not related to AF. Many people with AF are prescribed medicines known as anticoagulants, which help to reduce blood clots forming and causing an AF-related stroke.
AF can be difficult to detect because the irregular heartbeat is not present at all times and not all patients have symptoms. New research has shown more patients have symptoms than previously thought, and that patients with symptoms experience delay in getting a diagnosis. This is because patients think some of the symptoms are trivial and doctors do not always associate them with AF. Currently, about 500,000 people with AF in England have not been diagnosed. As a result, half of all AF-related strokes occur in people unaware they have AF. Early diagnosis and treatment is vital because patients are at highest risk of stroke in the first four months of having AF.
This study aims to explore patient journeys to AF diagnosis in order to better understand how AF presents. The knowledge from the study will help people to recognise symptoms earlier and seek medical help, and help healthcare professionals to better recognise AF in their day-to-day practice.
What does the study involve?
The study will be conducted in 20 GP practices in the West Midlands. We will carry out interviews with patients who have received a recent diagnosis of AF to understand the range of symptoms they experienced prior to diagnosis and how AF was detected. We will also carry out interviews with GPs and practice nurses to understand the challenges of identifying AF in practice. We will then hold a meeting with a small group including patients, AF experts, GPs, practice nurses and individuals from relevant charities to understand the learning from the findings. Following that we plan to create educational materials from this learning for the public and healthcare professionals.
The findings will be shared with the public, healthcare professionals and the NHS in a number of ways including publications, presentations at conferences for GPs, social media, and posters for display in GP practices. The educational materials will be made widely available on the internet and to all relevant charities and organisations. The founder of the AF Association who is a member of the research team will lead on sharing findings with the public. Improved public awareness and clinician understanding of AF will result in earlier detection of AF and treatment to reduce AF-related stroke.