Anticoagulants are not being prescribed to patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition which is known to increase the risk of stroke.

AF is when an abnormal heart rate causes blood to pool in the heart, which will potentially lead to a clot and (if the clot travels to the brain) a stroke.

The condition affects more than one million people in Britain and increases the risk of stroke by five to six times.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that AF patients are given anticoagulant medication to reduce the risk of stroke.

However, a report launched in Parliament recently has found that half of AF patients are not prescribed this medication because doctors are concerned about the side-effects.

These findings are supported by the Royal College of Physicians, which last year discovered that a quarter of AF patients admitted to hospital with strokes had not been given preventative medication.

The same study found that 38% of AF patients had been given aspirin, but this is not as effective as anticoagulant medication, such as warfarin. Warfarin reduces the risk of stroke by 64%, whereas aspirin reduces the risk by just 19%.

Prof Martin Cowie, professor of cardiology at Imperial College London and one of the report’s authors, said: “It’s estimated there are 7,100 preventable AF-related strokes in the UK each year.

“Sadly AF-related strokes are much more likely to be fatal or cause disability than other types of stroke.”

The report rings true with London woman Valerie Haigh who was diagnosed with AF aged 64. She was told that her condition was not life-threatening but was prescribed aspirin. She went on to suffer a stroke nine years later.

The doctor treating Mrs Haigh in hospital was surprised that she had not been given warfarin, as recommended by NICE. She said: “I was fortunate to survive, but I’ve been left with fatigue, balance problems and limited movement in my leg.

“I’ll never know if warfarin would have prevented the stroke, but it upsets me to think that I could have avoided it.”

Gly Davies MP, Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Atrial Fibrillation, said: “People are dying unnecessarily and others’ lives are ruined. And stroke care is very expensive for the NHS.”

Stroke patients

If you or your loved one suffered a stroke because of substandard medical care, please get in touch with us today.

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