Updated 29 July 2014

Atrial fibrillation increases stroke risk five-fold

Despite widespread fear of stroke and its devastating consequences, many people are unaware of Atrial fibrillation (AF) and its link to stroke.


By World Stroke Day 2013 (October 29) more than 500 000 people have shown their support for the Sign Against Stroke in Atrial Fibrillation campaign, calling for urgent co-ordinated action to avoid the thousands of preventable strokes that leave many atrial fibrillation (AF) patients disabled or dead every year. Despite widespread fear of stroke and its devastating consequences, many people are unaware of AF and its link to stroke, highlighting a critical educational and medical challenge for policy makers and healthcare providers.

Every year, 15 million people worldwide experience a stroke. Approximately five million of these suffer permanent disabilities and over five million more die, accounting for 10% of all deaths worldwide[1]. Sign Against Stroke in Atrial Fibrillation supports the world's only Global AF Patient Charter that calls for more education to raise awareness of the signs of AF, driving earlier diagnosis, and ensuring patients receive the appropriate care, so fewer families suffer the devastation caused by an AF-related stroke.

Alarmingly, the first time many people will find out they have AF is when they have a stroke, with these strokes being more severe, causing greater disability and having a worse outcome than strokes in people without. People who have a stroke caused by AF are more likely to remain in hospital for longer, are less likely to be discharged to their home and are 50% more likely to remain disabled, relying on long-term care from their families or nursing homes.

Healthcare costs

Healthcare costs associated with stroke are higher for patients with AF than for patients without AF, leading to a significant clinical and economic burden on individuals and society, especially in an ever ageing population. Preventing AF in patients at risk, diagnosing AF before the first stroke occurs and following recommendations regarding the use of anticoagulation, including consideration of new treatment options are critical for effective prevention of up to 70% of AF-related strokes.

"We urge people to visit and sign in support of the Global AF Patient Charter. We are calling upon healthcare decision makers to ensure AF is recognised as a serious risk factor for stroke, and that concrete actions are defined in national plans that support earlier diagnosis and improved awareness, education and prevention," said Mellanie True Hills, Founder and CEO of "It is our hope that national governments will address this as they plan for how to meet the United Nations' commitment to reduce non-communicable diseases by 25% by the year 2025."

Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke - The Link

70 million people worldwide are affected by AF. The irregular heartbeat of AF causes blood to pool and can result in the development of blood clots, which may travel to the brain, triggering a major and often fatal stroke. AF is age related, with those over 40 having a one in four chance of developing it. AF has no geographic, gender or socio-economic boundaries and increases stroke risk by 500%, accounting for 15%-20% of all ischemic strokes (strokes caused by blood clots). In addition, AF-related strokes are more severe than other strokes, with a 50% likelihood of death within one year.

The impact of AF-related stroke is predicted to rise dramatically as the number of individuals affected by AF is expected to increase 2.5 fold by 2050, due to an ageing population and improved survival of patients with conditions which predispose AF (e.g., heart attack).

Because More Than 500 000 Care about Preventing AF-Related Stroke

The theme of this year's World Stroke Day is "Because I care". By supporting the Global AF Patient Charter, over 500 000 people and 101 patient organisations, medical and other non-governmental organisations including the World Stroke Organisation, have demonstrated they care and that action is needed to prevent thousands of AF-related strokes each year.

About the Global AF Patient Charter and Sign Against Stroke Campaign

In a global call to action, 101 patient organisations, medical and other non-governmental organisations from around the world have endorsed the Charter, asking the public, healthcare professionals and policy makers to drive change in AF diagnosis and care, preventing AF-related strokes. The goal of Sign Against Stroke is to gather 1.7 million signatures in support of the Charter - one for each of the estimated number of grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles killed or disabled by AF strokes every year - and provide those signatures to healthcare decision makers in countries across the world. Demonstrating strong support behind the Charter recommendations will help put AF and AF-related stroke prevention at the forefront of national health agendas.


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