The UK is at risk of developing a stroke crisis as risk factors for the condition are under-diagnosed and under-treated.

This is according to a new report, published by ‘Action for Stroke Prevention’ and designed to to coincide with World Stroke Day, which calls for policy makers and the medical and patient communities to prevent stroke by focusing more on atrial fibrillation, which is linked to a five-fold increased risk of stroke.

The report was funded by German pharma firm Bayer, who markets the blood thinner Xarelto, a drug that has licenses to help prevent stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF). 

The report says that around 70% of patients with known AF who had a stroke caused by an AF-related blood clot were not receiving anticoagulant therapy at the time. “With stretched healthcare budgets and the annual cost of stroke in Europe around 64 billion euros, more needs to be done to reduce the number of these life-destroying, costly, and yet preventable strokes,” the report says.

Stroke is the second biggest cause of cardiovascular death, after ischaemic heart disease, killing an estimated 1.3 million people in Europe every year – 14% of all deaths. In Europe, it is estimated that 10 million people have AF.

Meanwhile, a new Ipsos Mori survey, also commissioned by Bayer, shows 64% of people in the UK are unaware of AF. Of those surveyed in the country, 23% fear having a stroke over another serious health condition, but only 3% are fearful of AF, despite it being a major risk factor for stroke. Furthermore, only 16% of the general public worldwide are aware that the risk of AF-related stroke can be reduced with anticoagulant treatment.   

“We need to ensure that AF is recognised as a serious risk factor for stroke in national prevention plans and that action encourages earlier diagnosis and improved awareness and prevention,” said cardiologist John Camm, professor of clinical cardiology at St George’s University in London, UK. “Reducing AF-related stroke will be a key component in the IK in reaching the United Nations commitment to reduce non-communicable diseases by 25% by the year 2025.”

ASP recommends improving public awareness and understanding of AF and the risk of AF-related stroke, implanting targets for healthcare professionals, developing strategies to support adherence to clinical guidelines, and facilitating the exchanges of best practice between member states.

“Until the recommendations identified by ASP are initiated, not just across the UK, but on a European wide scale, millions of people will continue to have their lives devastated by AF- related stroke. The community must act collectively and it must act now,” the report concludes.