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New survey exposes startling Atrial Fibrillation knowledge gap across Australia

Hearts4heart 5 mins read

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  • An estimated half a million Australians have atrial fibrillation, the most common irregular heartbeat.3 

  • Approximately half the Australian adult population, (10.1 million) unaware of atrial fibrillation (AF).1 

  • 1-in-3 Australians are at risk of developing atrial fibrillation in their lifetime.2 

  • As many as 30% of those living with atrial fibrillation remain undiagnosed4 and are at high risk of stroke, heart failure and dementia.5 

  • 1 in 4 strokes are attributed to atrial fibrillation.6  

 

Monday, 18 September 2023, Sydney, Australia

A comprehensive nationwide survey sponsored by leading health promotion charity hearts4heart has revealed alarming gaps in atrial fibrillation awareness among Australian adults, prompting urgent calls from clinicians, politicians, patients, and carers, for heightened education and awareness campaigns to tackle this critical issue head-on. 

"Knowledge gaps like these are concerning and highlight the urgent need for increased awareness and education about atrial fibrillation and its symptoms," said Tanya Hall, CEO, and Founder of hearts4heart, who is also living with the condition.  

"Early detection and awareness play a pivotal role in managing this condition effectively and improving the quality of life for those affected." 

Latest findings from a national survey commissioned by hearts4heart revealed that approximately 10.1 million Australians, or half of the adult population, have limited knowledge on AF with only 16% (approx. 3.3 million) aware of the condition, but unfamiliar with the symptoms it entails, and 33% Australians (approx. 6.7 million) were completely unaware of the condition.1  

The report provided a detailed look at respondents' understanding of atrial fibrillation symptoms, revealing a stark reality. Only 7% of Australians, approximately 1.4 million individuals, could correctly identify all atrial fibrillation symptoms.  

Heart palpitations (38%), shortness of breath (34%), dizziness/fainting (30%), and chest pain (30%) were the most identified symptoms.1 Fatigue (26%) and reduced ability to exercise (20%) were less frequently recognised as symptoms of the condition.5 

This concerning trend underscores the importance of improved education and awareness efforts. 

“The urgent need to bridge the knowledge gap and promote early detection is more critical than ever for the health and well-being of the Australian population,” said Maria Vamvakinou MP, Co-chair of Parliamentary Friends of Heart, and Stroke Foundations.  

Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition in which the top champers of your heartbeat fast and erratically. In atrial fibrillation, your heart may not pump blood around the body as well as it should.7 Affecting over 1 in 4 Australians over the age of 55,8 this highly prevalent and potentially serious heart condition can lead to life-threatening health complications such as stroke, heart failure and dementia when left untreated.  

Associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of heart failure and a seven-fold higher risk in life-threatening stroke,9, 10 atrial fibrillation is the leading cause of cardiovascular hospitalisations,9 resulting in a direct annual healthcare cost of approximately $1.63 billion.11  

“With early diagnosis, treatment and lifestyle changes, a person with atrial fibrillation can reduce their risk of hospitalisation and stroke and improve their quality of life, which is why awareness is so important,” said Dr Adrian Elliott, a leader in the field of cardiac arrhythmias and lecturer at the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders.  

“If you’re over 65, or experiencing any symptoms, speak with your GP and get your heart checked,” Dr Elliott said. 

Having recently recovered from a stroke caused by atrial fibrillation, Mr Les Botha agrees, and is keen to see more Australians speaking with their GPs about their heart health. 

“Get it checked. If I had known about atrial fibrillation earlier, this stroke may have been prevented,” Mr Botha said.

Mr Peter Grady and Jim Micholos have also experienced life-threatening health complications after not recognising (or knowing) the signs as atrial fibrillation. 

“Regardless of how many symptoms you experience and how mild it can be, go immediately to your GP and get a proper diagnosis.” said Peter, who had an atrial fibrillation related heart attack.  

Jim seconds this sentiment, sharing that, “Even if you have an inkling that something is wrong with your heart, go speak to your doctor. There is nothing worse than not asking questions and the best place to start is your GP.” 

This Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week, Hearts4Heart is urging Australians to learn to recognise atrial fibrillation symptoms and speak with their GP about getting their heart checked for an irregular heartbeat. 

To access resources and information about atrial fibrillation, please visit www.hearts4heart.org.au 

Social media assets and animation available for download here.

ENDS 

Interviews available with: 

Hearts4heart spokesperson:

  • Tanya Hall (Perth) - Hearts4heart CEO and Founder  

Experts in the field:

  • Dr Adrian Elliott (Adelaide) - leader in the field of cardiac arrhythmias and lecturer at the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders. 

  • Professor Prash Sanders (Adelaide) - Cardiac Electrophysiologist and Director of the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders 

  • Professor Peter Kistler (Melbourne) - Head of Electrophysiology at The Alfred Hospital and Clinical Electrophysiology Research 

  • Dr Karen Phillips (Brisbane) - Director of Cardiology at The Brisbane AF Clinic 

  • Professor Jason Kovacic (Sydney) - Director and CEO of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute 

  • Dr Justin Ng (Perth) - General Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist 

Case studies:  

  • Les Botha (Melbourne) - recently recovered from an AF related stroke  

  • Peter Grady (Melbourne) - experienced an AF related heart attack  

  • Jim Micholos (Adelaide) - experienced an AF related stroke 

Politicians:  

  • Maria Vamakinou MP (VIC) - Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Heart and Stroke Foundation 

  • Wendy Askew MP (TAS) - Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Heart and Stroke Foundation 

About the YouGov Research  

The YouGov study Awareness of symptoms caused by Atrial Fibrillation surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,014 Australians aged 18 years and older in between 7th to 9th August 2023. The survey was conducted using an online survey administered to members of the YouGov Plc Australian panel of 71,000+ individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys. After the survey's completion, the data was weighted by age, gender, and region to reflect the latest ABS population estimates. 

References   

  1. Hearts4heart. (2023). Awareness of symptoms caused by Atrial Fibrillation. [data on file].   

  1. Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. (2021). Victor Chang scientists receive funding for AF Research. Retrieved from Million-dollar grant to accelerate Atrial Fibrillation research - Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.  

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Atrial fibrillation in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/heart-stroke-vascular-diseases/atrial-fibrillation-in-australia/contents/what-is-atrial-fibrillation 

  1. Deloitte Access Economics. (2011). Offbeat: Atrial fibrillation and the cost of preventable strokes. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/atrial-fibrillation-cost-preventable-strokes.html 

  1. Heart Research Institute. (2022). Link between Dementia and Atrial Fibrillation. Retrieved from https://www.hri.org.au/news/link-between-dementia-and-atrial-fibrillation-irregular-heartbeat  

  1. Hearts4heart. (2022). Atrial Fibrillation (AF). Retrieved from: https://hearts4heart.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/AF-Information-Sheet-AUS.pdf  

  1. Elliott, A. D., Middeldorp, M. E., Van Gelder, I. C., Albert, C. M., & Sanders, P. (2023). Epidemiology and modifiable risk factors for atrial fibrillation. Nature Reviews Cardiology, 20(6), 404-417. 

  1. Gallagher, C., Hendriks, J. M., Giles, L., Karnon, J., Pham, C., Elliott, A. D., … Wong, C. X. (2019). Increasing trends in hospitalisations due to atrial fibrillation in Australia from 1993 to 2013. Heart (British Cardiac Society), 105(17), 1358–1363. https://doi.org/10.1136/heartjnl-2018-314471  

  1. Ball, J., Thompson, D. R., Ski, C. F., Carrington, M. J., Gerber, T., & Stewart, S. (2015). Estimating the current and future prevalence of atrial fibrillation in the Australian adult population. Medical Journal of Australia, 202(1), 32–35. 

  1. Chen, M. Y., Xiao, F. P., Kuai, L., Zhou, H. B., Jia, Z. Q., Liu, M., He, H., & Hong, M. (2021). Outcomes of atrial fibrillation in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The American journal of emergency medicine, 50, 661–669. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2021.09.050 

 


About us:

Hearts4heart is a non-profit organisation that supports, educates, and advocates for people with heart disease in Australia and New Zealand. Hearts4heart works to eliminate stroke and preventable deaths and improve the quality of life for patients and caregivers.

Bringing together patients and healthcare professionals to reduce the burden of heart disease, hearts4heart provides targeted educational programs, resources, and services to improve diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life. To find out more visit www.hearts4heart.org.au  


Contact details:

Kerry Jung – kerry@palin.com.au 0435 753 618 

Sajini Subhaskaransajini@palin.com.au 0413 279 264

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