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2009 Heart and Stroke Foundation Stroke Report reveals: 350,000 Canadians with atrial fibrillation at high risk for stroke

OTTAWA, June 10, 2009 – According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 350,000 Canadians currently diagnosed with the most common type of heart arrhythmia − atrial fibrillation (AF) – may be unaware that they are at least five times more at risk of having a stroke and twice as likely to die from one.

”Complicating matters, many Canadians are not being properly treated for the condition in the first place,” says Dr. Paul Dorian, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson and cardiologist. “The most important medical advance in the past decade is the effectiveness of blood thinners in managing AF and the risk of having a stroke,” says Dr. Dorian. “Yet, it is extremely disturbing that only a small percentage of at-risk patients are actually prescribed these life-saving treatments.”

Atrial fibrillation (AF) can cause the heart to beat very fast, sometimes more than 150 beats per minute. AF increases with age. From 55 on, the incidence of AF doubles with each decade of life, and with other risk factors for heart disease and stroke including high blood pressure, diabetes and underlying heart disease. “Up to 15 percent of strokes are caused by AF,” adds Dr. Dorian. “In people over the age of 60 with AF, that number increases to about one-third of strokes.” Currently, 50,000 strokes occur in Canada every year.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that Canadians diagnosed with AF speak to their healthcare providers about their stroke risk and blood thinner medication. Healthy lifestyle changes that lower blood pressure, such as maintaining a normal weight, limiting salt intake and controlling diabetes, can help reduce the chances of developing stroke and atrial fibrillation.

Stroke is a medical emergency – if you experience any of the signs of stroke call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number.

Know the 5 warning signs of stroke.

Learn more about atrial fibrillation.

Read the full 2009 Stroke Report.