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Mar 10, 2016

Study Highlights the Need to Improve Education on Atrial Fibrillation

Study participants’ levels of education were closely related to their AFib treatment decisions.

Not all patients with atrial fibrillation receive the information they need to make the best possible treatment decisions, according to research recently published in the European Society of Cardiology’s journal Europace.

Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, is a common type of irregular heartbeat that affects as many as 6.1 million Americans. As AFib significantly increases risk for stroke and other serious complications, treatment is key. Through a healthy lifestyle and medication, patients with AFib can control their condition and help prevent life-threatening heart events. However, not all patients understand their condition and the best possible treatment options.

Over the course of three months, the European Heart Rhythm Association surveyed more than 1,100 adults with AFib. Patients came from 8 different European countries and were 66 years old, on average. 

Through the questionnaire, participants answered 40 questions relating to their attitude, education and treatment of AFib. For example, surveys asked whether patients took blood-thinning medication and if so, which one. Blood thinners are one of the best ways to prevent stroke in patients with AFib, but they only work when taken consistently. There are also multiple types of blood thinners, each of which has its own risks and benefits.

After analyzing responses, researchers found that the amount of schooling a participant had was closely related to their knowledge, treatment and outcomes. First, patients without a college education were significantly less likely to understand the bleeding risks associated with blood thinner use. Also, patients without a college education were nearly twice as likely to stray from target ranges related to blood thinners than those who attended college.

Perhaps most concerning, patients without a college education were less likely to know about new blood thinners called NOACs (non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulants). NOACs are easier to use and may be safer than older types of blood thinners, offering a potential treatment option for many AFib patients.

In fact, bleeding events were significantly less frequent in participants taking NOACs compared to standard blood thinners. However, patients with college schooling were more likely to take advantage of this new treatment option.

According to authors, findings highlight the need for better education among patients with AFib. All patients should understand their condition and treatment options, regardless of education and background. It’s also vital that patients understand the importance of adhering to medications, as medication helps significantly reduce risk of stroke and other complications. With better education, experts hope to provide all patients with the information needed to make the best possible treatment decisions.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.

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AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.

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