A stroke 'epidemic' across the Asia-Pacific region is imminent if actions are not taken now to slow the rising tide of preventable disease occurring every year.

That is the key point from a new report launched earlier this month at the Asian Pacific Congress of Cardiology in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by health experts who make up Action for Stroke Prevention. In the Asia-Pacific region in 2004, the number of patients who had survived a stroke at some point in their lifetime was 4.4 million in southeast Asia and 9.1 million in the Western Pacific region and in the same year, the number of first-ever strokes was 5.1 million across these regions - higher than the estimated number of new cases of cancer.

The report notes that people who suffer a stroke caused by atrial fibrillation "are more likely to remain in the hospital longer, are less likely to be discharged home, and are 50% more likely to remain disabled"than patients who have a stroke unrelated to AF. An increasing number of people in the Asia-Pacific region are living with AF and in China alone, up to eight million people suffer from it.

The analysis goes on to highlight  the economic burden of strokes on national economies in Asia-Pacific. For example, China will lose $558 billion in national income due to the combined consequences of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, it claims.

The Action for Stroke Prevention report makes a number of recommendations, including the development of better methods for early and adequate diagnosis of AF and stroke risk assessment and facilitating the exchange of best practice between national governments in the Asia-Pacific region. It also calls for more research into the causes, prevention and management of AF and address "the current paucity of epidemiological information available in Asia-Pacific".

Sim Kui Hian of the Sarawak General Hospital, Malaysia, said the incidence of stroke across the region is continuing to grow "and constitutes both a major public health issue and a significant economic burden". He urged policymakers, healthcare professionals and patient groups "to act together now to prevent the devastating impact stroke has on people, their families and carers".