‘Get Smart About AFIB’ is a new public health campaign developed to address the escalating epidemic of atrial fibrillation (AF), which has doubled in prevalence over the past decade and is predicted to rise by a further 70% by 2030.¹ The campaign aims to generate awareness, improve knowledge and encourage better detection of AF, an often silent and potentially life-threatening condition that affects more than 40,000 people in Ireland aged over 50. ²
The initiative is being spearheaded by Arrythmia Alliance and Biosense Webster, part of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies (J&J), to tackle the challenge of AF, now recognised as a major public health condition with high comorbidity, increased mortality and soaring healthcare costs.³
The campaign aims to provide educational materials to doctors, both primary care providers and cardiologists, to support their work in detecting and diagnosing AF. A campaign website, www.getsmartaboutAFIB.ie, houses a range of information and resources for both healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients, to support education and detection. Here, HCPs can access relevant information based on guidelines for managing AF, as well as download risk assessment tools for their patients. The platform will provide HCPs and patients with a useful and easily accessible information resource at a time when access and contact may be limited due to COVID-19.
Trudie Loban MBE, Founder & CEO of Arrythmia Alliance & AF Association, who is supporting the new campaign, said, “In Ireland, we are seeing more and more cases of AF year on year with 1 in 4 people over the age of 50 being at risk for developing the condition.⁴ While this is partly due to our ageing population, we are also seeing a higher prevalence of risk factors for developing AF, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.⁵ ⁷ We hope that through initiatives like ‘Get Smart About AFIB’ we will help detect cases of AF-related stroke or heart failure, giving sufferers the potential for much better outcomes.
“There are patient resources available that give information on the symptoms of AF and the importance of regularly checking the pulse to detect any abnormality in the heart rhythm, whether it’s too fast, too slow, or irregular. Importantly, it will highlight that any concerns should be discussed with a doctor. The general population will be directed to the campaign website, www.getsmartaboutAFIB.ie, to learn about pulse detection methods, common symptoms and to download supporting tools, educational materials and questionnaires.”
AF has risen rapidly in prevalence across Europe, affecting over 11 million people (40,000 in Ireland), and costing European healthcare systems up to €3.286 billion annually. ⁸
¹² Europe is predicted to see the highest increases in cases compared to other regions globally.¹ AF can cause debilitating symptoms such as breathlessness, palpitations and chest pains which may significantly impact patients’ quality of life.¹ ¹³ It also increases the risk of more serious conditions such as heart failure and stroke and can also result in sudden death.¹⁴ ¹⁵ Up to 30% of all strokes are AF-related and are often more severe, or even fatal, than non-AF related strokes.¹ ¹⁵. ‘Silent AF’, where the patient experiences no apparent symptoms, affects up to 30% of people and remains a clinical challenge.¹³ ¹⁵ These cases need to be uncovered either through health screening or through a patient’s own pulse check. AF is then confirmed by a physician, most commonly through an ECG test.
Patrizio Fatale, General Manager, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Ireland, says, “Our report ‘The Burden of Atrial Fibrillation’ is a detailed analysis of the scale and impact of
atrial fibrillation across Europe. It highlights the significant effect of AF on patients’ quality of life as well as the escalating economic burden of AF on the healthcare system. This new campaign aims to work with our medical communities to help them detect more patients earlier, in order to address both of these major challenges”.
In most cases, primary care doctors are the first point of contact for a patient with suspected AF. Screening asymptomatic patients in primary care is a proposed way of reducing the burden of stroke and by identifying those who would benefit from prophylactic anticoagulation therapy.⁷ The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) guidelines recommend opportunistic screening for people over 65 years (for example during routine blood pressure monitoring) by pulse taking or Tags Irish Healthcare Irish Pharmacy News Pharmacist Ireland Pharmacy Pharmacy Ireland through an ECG test.¹³ Both systematic and opportunistic screening can increase the rate of detection of new AF cases in patients over 65 years in a primary care setting and is cost effective in elderly populations.⁵ ¹⁵
When AF is diagnosed there is a range of management and treatment options available which also include stroke prevention therapies, heart rate and rhythm control drugs. Non-drug intervention, using catheter ablation, has become a more widely performed procedure to prevent recurrent AF.¹⁵ ¹⁷
“For over 20 years, Biosense Webster has pioneered the development of medical procedures to treat AF and through our partnerships, with both the medical and patient community we aim to deliver on our promise to heal the hearts of thousands of patients,” explains Alenka Brzulja, Vice President, Cardiovascular & Specialty Solutions (CSS) Group EMEA. “J&J has entered into partnerships and initiatives worldwide to support AF detection, evidence generation and dissemination on the burden of disease. We need to continue our urgent focus on this rising epidemic of atrial fibrillation and are proud to be launching this new campaign which aims to tackle this public health challenge head on.”