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Why should we screen for atrial fibrillation?
  1. Emma Svennberg1,
  2. Johan Engdahl1,2
  1. 1Cardiology Unit, Department of Clinical Sciences, Karolinska Institute, Danderyd's University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, Institute of Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University, Göteborg, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Johan Engdahl, Cardiology Unit, Department of Clinical Sciences, Karolinska Institute, Danderyd's University Hospital, Stockholm SE-18288, Sweden; johan.engdahl{at}regionhalland.se

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Atrial fibrillation (AF) constitutes an increasing challenge to the medical community and healthcare providers. With a prevalence of almost 3% in the adult Swedish population1 and a forecasted twofold or threefold increase by 2050 in the USA, we are facing a diagnosis with epidemic proportions.

Apart from increased mortality, AF also increases the risk of heart failure, hospitalisations and ischaemic stroke.2 Of these complications, ischaemic stroke gives a particularly heavy burden on patients, their family and society. Ischaemic stroke is the most common reason for permanent neurological disability in the adult Western population, and stroke in connection to AF and cardiac emboli results in worse neurological outcome and higher mortality in relation to other subtypes of stroke.3

In patients with AF and stroke risk factors, oral anticoagulation (OAC) therapy reduces the risk of ischaemic stroke and systemic emboli by 60–70%. Unfortunately, there is still widespread undertreatment with OAC in patients with AF and risk factors.

AF is often present with no or very subtle symptoms, both in paroxysmal form and in permanent form. The absence of symptoms reduces the chance of recognition and diagnosis, in particular in paroxysmal cases, since patients will not seek medical attention for their arrhythmia. The prevalence of so-called silent AF is only partly known since yield in screening studies varies with ECG recording duration. There are, however, no data supporting that silent AF have better outcomes in comparison with AF with typical presentation.4 …

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