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They are traditionally diagnosed using ECG but the difficulty lies in the fact that many arrhythmias occur at long intervals. Symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath and heart palpitations may arise in a few seconds but disappear just as quickly, which is why they are difficult to detect with a regular 12-lead resting ECG at a hospital or with a continuous ECG during a few days.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common rhythm abnormality and one of the most widespread conditions among the population. Around 3% of the population in Europe have atrial fibrillation. Several research publications indicate, however, that there may be another 1-2% of the populationaffected, these people have silent atrial fibrillation, atrial fibrillation that gives no symptoms and have not yet been detected. This is because atrial fibrillation often comes and goes and does not always cause symptoms. Around a third of all atrial fibrillation sufferers have no symptoms and are rarely discovered in routine health checks.
The most feared consequence of atrial fibrillation is ischemic stroke, a blood clot in the brain. People with atrial fibrillation are five times as likely to have a stroke. Stroke caused by atrial fibrillation gives rise to more debilitating disabilities and has a higher mortality rate. At least 30% of all stroke patients are estimated to have atrial fibrillation.
A stroke is often a disaster for those affected. A third of all those who have had a stroke die, and a further third are severely disabled for life. Stroke is one of the diseases that results in the highest medical costs. In Europe 600,000 people have a stroke each year. Atrial fibrillation is one of the most important riskfactors for stroke. Each stroke costs society around €50 000-€70 000 depending on the health care system and local costs.
Many of these stroke cases could be prevented if atrial fibrillation were diagnosed and treated at an early stage. The most important treatment for atrial fibrillation is anticoagulant medication, which reduces the risk of stroke by around 70%. In recent years new anticoagulants have been launched on the market as an alternative to traditional treatment. Thanks to this, stroke prevention in cases of atrial fibrillation has been highlighted as an issue of priority.