Long-term care providers should understand that the risk of stroke from atrial fibrillation is real and can quickly change a patient’s life. The most common type of arrhythmia, AFib increases stroke risk by five-fold and disproportionately impacts older Americans, with close to half of all atrial fibrillation-associated strokes occurring in patients ages 75 and older.
AFib-related strokes are more serious than other types. Stroke patients with AFib are up to 70% more likely to die than those without the disease. For those who survive, an AFib-related stroke is a life-changing event. It doubles the risk that stroke will result in permanent disability and often leads to paralysis, loss of speech, impaired brain function, and other disabilities.
Yet, older AFib patients are too often under-anticoagulated, owing in part to their lack of understanding about stroke risk and the value of anticoagulation. A survey of AFib patients conducted by the Alliance for Aging Research last year to follow up on patient attitudes found that awareness and concern about AFib-related strokes is growing.
Anticoagulants are drugs that work to prevent blood coagulation, such as heparin or warfarin. However, only 60% of patients reported being on an anticoagulant to lower their stroke risk. Respondents had a number of reasons why, including feeling that they didn’t need it (36%) and concerns about bleeding (38%).
For those who are prescribed an anticoagulant, adherence is a significant concern. Patients generally do not feel any different while using an anticoagulant and may decide to stop taking it, which can have serious consequences.
Recognizing the need for increased awareness about preventing AFib-related stroke, the Alliance, along with nine leading cardiovascular organizations, has released a new educational campaign called Celebrating a Year Without a Stroke; its goal is to encourage health care professionals and organizations to educate patients about stroke risk prevention.
Every year without a stroke is another year that AFib patients get to enjoy doing everything that is most important to them, free of the limitations associated with a stroke.
Lindsay Clarke is vice president of health programs for the Alliance for Aging Research in Washington, D.C.