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Original research article
The treatment of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in UK primary care


Objective To determine whether patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AF) are less likely to be treated with anticoagulants than patients with persistent/permanent AF and to investigate trends in treatment between 2000 and 2015. UK and European guidelines recommend that anticoagulants are offered to all patients with AF at increased risk of stroke, irrespective of AF type.

Methods Sixteen sequential cross-sectional analyses from 2000 to 2015 were carried out with index dates on 1st of May each year. The data source was primary care data from 648 practices across the UK contributing to The Health Improvement Network database. All patients with a diagnosis of AF aged ≥35 years and registered for at least 1 year were included. The main outcome measure was prescription of anticoagulant medication.

Results The proportion of patients with AF with a diagnosis of paroxysmal AF increased from 7.4% (95% CI 7.0 to 7.8) in 2000 to 14.0% (95% CI 13.7 to 14.3) in 2015. Among patients with a CHADS2 score of ≥1, between 2000 and 2015 the proportion prescribed anticoagulants increased from 18.8% (95% CI 16.4 to 21.4) to 56.2% (95% CI 55.0 to 57.3) and from 34.2% (95% CI 33.3 to 35.0) to 69.4% (95% CI 68.9 to 69.8) in patients with paroxysmal and other (persistent/permanent) AF, respectively; RR for treatment of patients with paroxysmal AF compared with patients with other AF increased from 0.48 (95% CI 0.42 to 0.55) to 0.76 (95% CI 0.74 to 0.77). Adjusting for age, sex, Townsend score and presence or absence of contraindications had little effect on the results.

Conclusions In 2000, eligible patients with paroxysmal AF were half as likely to be treated with anticoagulants as patients with other AF; this has improved over time, but in 2015, eligible patients with paroxysmal AF were still around 20% less likely to be prescribed anticoagulant medication.

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Cardiac arrhythmias and resuscitation science
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