Beating the burden of AFib through awareness

Hero Image

Alenka Brzulja, Vice President of Johnson & Johnson Cardiovascular Specialty Solutions EMEA

Beating on average 115,000 times each day, our hearts affect every part of our bodies but how much do we really know about the most pressing health issues of the day that can affect this hard-working organ?

This week is Arrhythmia Alliance - World Heart Rhythm Week. To honor this annual global awareness initiative, I’m taking a more in-depth look at Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) — a condition that is fast becoming one of the world’s most significant health issues. What can we do together to detect the disease earlier and support better treatment and management to improve outcomes?

Atrial Fibrillation is characterized by an irregular and often fast heart rhythm that results in uncoordinated contraction of the top two chambers of the heart, which can cause blood clots and, consequently, AFib-related stroke1 and other potentially devastating complications. Worryingly, some people with AFib will not know they have it nor display any symptoms, so will often go undiagnosed until they experience life-threatening conditions. Given that those with AFib are five times more likely to experience heart failure, 2.4 times more likely to experience a stroke and twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease2, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure the detection and diagnosis, the treatment and burden of AFib is firmly — and urgently — included on the healthcare agenda. 

It seems that there is little understanding of just how quickly AFib can take hold. Typically a progressive disease, 1 in 5 patients progress from paroxysmal (intermittent) AFib to persistent (constant) AFib in just one year.3 Moreover, it is thought that more than 11 million people across Europe are suffering from AFib4, making it almost as common as stroke and cancer in this region4. And this situation shows no signs of abating, with statistics suggesting that, by 2030, the number of people with AFib is expected to increase by up to 70%5, primarily due to the greater ability to treat chronic cardiac and noncardiac diseases, the aging population, and the improved ability to suspect and diagnose AFib. Affecting one in four of us over 40 years old6, raising awareness and early detection of this most common heart arrhythmia (heart rhythm disorder) is therefore key.

Biosense Webster, part of Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, is a global leader in the science of diagnosing and treating heart arrhythmias and is committed to delivering solutions that will help reach more patients and heal more hearts. Last year, the company published a breakthrough report that uncovered the growing burden of AFib on patients, caregivers and healthcare systems across Europe. The report called for greater awareness and emphasis on the scale and impact of AFib in the light of the condition fast becoming a new millennium epidemic — and highlighted the need for us to work together to tackle this situation head on. Clearly the need for more efficient scalable screening methods and better access to integrated AFib treatment options is as vital as the affected organ itself. 

If we are to make headway in reducing AFib’s burden worldwide, the importance of campaigns like the Arrhythmia Alliance’s World Heart Rhythm Week cannot be underestimated. As there is no required program of pulse checks or heart rhythm screening at regular health check-ups, the Arrhythmia Alliance is working to make communities more aware of the importance of Knowing Your Pulse. A simple pulse check takes just 30 seconds — and could save your life.

1. Iaizzo PA (2015). Handbook of Cardiac Anatomy, Physiology, and
Devices. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC: Switzerland
2. Odutayo A et al. (2016). BMJ 354 i4482.
3. Nieuwlaat R et al. (2008) Eur Heart J 29 (9): 1181-1189.
4. Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network (2016) Global
Burden of Disease Study 2016 (GBD 2016) Results. Seattle, United
States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2017. Accessed 2018-04-20. Available from
5. Zoni-Berisso M et al. (2014) Clin Epidemiol 6: 213-220.
6. Lloyd-Jones DM et al. (2004) Circulation 110 (9): 1042-1046.
7. Scherr D et al. (2015) Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol 8 (1): 18-24.
8. Pathak RK et al. (2014) J Am Coll Cardiol 64 (21): 2222-2231.