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London Heart

In The News: Dr Syed Ahsan on understanding and treating the crisis of Atrial Fibrillation (AF)

On 12 October 2018, The NewStatesmen published an article on the growing number of atrial fibrillation (AF) sufferers in the UK and Europe, and the potentially critical burden it is placing on healthcare systems.

They estimate that by 2030, the number of patients with atrial fibrillation in Europe will be between 14–17m, with 120,000–215,000 new cases per year.

Many of these cases are under diagnosed and referred too late, coupled with low awareness of the treatment options. Hence, the expected burden to national healthcare systems through the the number of stroke events, hospitalisations, and doctor visits is immense.

The lifestyle risk factors for AF include obesity, high alcohol consumption and other health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Nonadjustable factors such as old age and genetics are also contributors that can lead to AF.

Dr Syed Ahsan‘s contribution to the article:

“Atrial fibrillation is a common problem in people over 65. It causes irregular heart rhythms, which in some cases can lead to debilitating strokes and even mortality.

The guidelines in the UK dictate that patients suffering from atrial fibrillation should be placed on anti-arrhythmic medication in the first instance. In our experience, we find that medication works for some patients, but it can also cause side effects, and for a lot of patients it can even cease to be effective after an extended period of time. When medication proves ineffective, we move onto a catheter ablation.

A catheter ablation is a procedure that can be used for different types of heart rhythm abnormalities, but heart palpitations is by far the most common condition that we are treating with this procedure at the moment. It uses a fine wire to deliver a high-speed frequency to treat the abnormal signals causing the palpitations. The wire is administered through the patient’s groin, and up through the ephemeral vein which runs like a motorway to the heart.

There’s now a huge drive to try and screen patients, particularly over 65s, who often aren’t aware of the abnormality but are most likely to suffer from it. Our detection and treatment rates are certainly going to increase significantly as a result of this, and the technology has evolved so much over the last two years that we’re looking at success rates approaching the 80 to 90 per cent mark. We’re even getting patients coming to us now and asking us for an ablation.

Training to become a cardiologist takes about six years, and atrial fibrillation falls under a sub-speciality called arrhythmia, or heart rhythm management, which is a long but very rewarding process. It’s very satisfying to see the positive effects of this procedure on patients.”

You can read the full article on the NewStatesmen website.

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